Stalin and the Photographer

Helen Rappaport tells the story of James Abbe, a little-known American photographer, whose images of the USSR in the 1930s record both the official and unofficial faces of the Stalinist regime.

He called himself a ‘tramp photographer’, a typically self-deprecating view of his considerable skills as a photojournalist, but the American James Abbe (born in Alfred, Maine, in 1883) was no newspaper hack. He first made a name for himself in the early days of the silent cinema, when his flair for composition and use of light produced some of the most enduring, iconic images of screen idols such as Fred Astaire, Clara Bow, the Gish sisters, Charlie Chaplin and above all  Rudolf Valentino. Yet today the work of the man who went on to photograph several of the most controversial leaders of the twentieth century, including Stalin, Hitler, Franco, Mussolini and Diego Rivera, remains largely neglected.

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