Perhaps the most extraordinary pictorial archive in Britain is to be found in a terraced house in Islington: it is the life’s achievement of one man, David King, and while it is known only to a handful of people, few books on the history of the USSR are published without author and editor making a beeline for the David King collection and its apparently inexhaustible collection of photographs (retouched and raw), posters and books to illustrate their text. But King is not merely an indefatigable collector who has risked bankruptcy, imprisonment and physical injury to build a collection on a scale that would normally require the resources of a Victorian Maecenas; as former art editor of the Sunday Times, and as the author of previous collections of historical illustrative material (The Commissar Vanishes, on the falsification of photographs by Stalin’s henchmen, and The Victims of Stalin, a pictorial history of Trotsky), he reproduces his pictures to a standard rare even today when Photoshop and the new colour presses enable a callow novice to produce acceptable work.
The Commissar Vanishes has long established itself as a milestone in the use of photographs to underline the complexity of Soviet reality and the mendacity of Soviet values. This new collection, however, excels not just in the quality of the illustrations. There are, of course, a few classic