Retoucher of Kremlin class

AS Leonid Brezhnev's career flourished, the medals on his chest multiplied. Miraculously, the wrinkles on his face did not. Instead of taking new portraits of the ageing leader of the Soviet Union, Ilya Filatov would photograph the medals and carefully superimpose pictures of them on a more flattering portrait taken several years earlier.

Filatov, now 81, has been the official Kremlin photographer for 40 years. His skill at retouching made Mikhail Gorbachev's birthmark 'disappear', made Brezhnev's eyebrows darker and even thicker, and gave Nikita Khrushchev's teeth a snow-white gleam.

The retirement of Filatov this month marks the end of an era when the public images of the country's leaders were meticulously controlled. The Kremlin photographers who follow him may remove the bags from beneath Boris Yeltsin's tired eyes and shave a few years off the faces of other leaders, but they will not experience the monopoly and freedom he enjoyed.

Unlike today, when Mr Yeltsin smiles for the cameras while eating hamburgers at a newly opened McDonald's in Moscow, or poses in tennis shorts, Soviet leaders rarely made themselves available for pictures. Even the government newspaper Izvestia obtained most of its photographs of the leaders from Filatov.

Reminiscing in his apartment in the prestigious Tsarskoye Selo area of Moscow, where many who had served the party still have their homes, he explained why photographs had to be approved and signed by the leaders themselves. It came about as the result of a vacation taken by Brezhnev in the Crimea.

'He was in a shop in Yalta before he was made general secretary,' Filatov said. 'On the wall of the shop were pictures of all the Politburo members. After some time, Brezhnev finally found a portrait that was supposed to depict him.

'I obviously didn't take that picture. Brezhnev was so amazed that the photo had been allowed to be made public that, from that day forward, all portraits had to be officially approved.'

Although he admits to having been showered with gifts and to enjoying privileges reserved for a select few, Filatov maintains that he lived humbly, like any other Soviet citizen.

'My salary was only 280 roubles a month,' he recalled, 'although there were times when I received large sums for a special picture, like the first photograph that was to be made public of Khrushchev. I was paid 2,000 rubles for that portrait. Considering that the picture was reprinted worldwide, however, it really wasn't that much money.'

When speaking about the current leaders in the Kremlin, the twinkle in Filatov's eyes disappears and his enchantment with his work seems to fade.

'Here is His Highness,' he said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice as he shows a recent portrait of President Yeltsin. 'It's a nice shot, isn't it?'

He does not see anything unusual, or dishonest, about making the leaders look younger and more handsome than they were. A specialist at photo-retouching since the age of 13, it was Filatov who first suggested removing the birthmark from official portraits of Gorbachev. 'I showed it to Gorbachev and he just shrugged his shoulders and said that it was fine. He complimented me on my craftsmanship.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?