God is great and I'm not

Students of the Leningrad Academy of Art preparing the giant portrait of Stalin for the festive decoration of 1 May 1934 (photo by M. Mitskevich)

I. Brodsky painting the portrait of Lenin for the congress room of the Smolny
(in the background the Volkhovstroi / Volkhov Lenin Hydroelectric Plant)

The last touches on the hitherto largest statue of Lenin by V. Kozlov, intended for Vladivistok, on the coast of the Pacific Sea. Photo by V. Presnyakov in the 1927/7 issue of Советское Фото

No, it’s not simply about the giant figures. It’s about the characteristic phenomenon, lasting only for a couple of decades, that people definitely strived to be photographed together with these figures in such a way that the figure may have a gigantic effect precisely because of their smallness.

Lenin és Brezsnyev
Two other topoi of photographing giant statues are much better known, have a longer history and are still alive. The one is when the figure, all alone, rises majestically above something. The other is when, on the contrary, people rise above it, like on the photos of 1956 in Budapest above the head and boots of Stalin’s statue, or pose frivolously with it, as Western tourists with the monuments of former socialist countries. But this formula, when the little man increases the greatness of the figure with his own smallness, and draws safety and support for his smallness from the greatness of the figure, was fertile only for some decades. But at that time it was a lot. Among the many photos stored in my memory these are at hand right now, but the collection will grow.

Ilya Ilf in the Gorky Park, in front of Stalin’s giant fresco

Lenin-szobor cipőjét pucolják
“For three years have been coming to us hostile assumptions on His death, for three years the newspapers made by foreign intelligence services have been writing about it. However, the monument has been standing! And until the monument stands, He is also alive. And now it turns out that the hostile newspapers wrote the truth? It turns out that He is dead, by whose will the clouds floated on the sky and the rivers ran in their designated beds, dead is He who was the only husband of our mothers and the only grandfather of our grandchildren? It is easy to say: He’s dead. But then who will wake us every morning with the call of the plants and factories? Who will raise our potatoes and children? Who will produce paper and macaroni, and good quality brass coffin handles, which make our town famous throughout the world? Who will give us payment, show movies, sell ice cream and spit on the worms before we put them on the hook and throw it in the water? Who will rescue us from constipation and who will set the male dogs on the females? And finally who will tower above the chestnut trees in the central square? After all, without that it is not possible, without that it is not possible in any way.”

Yury Buida: Прусская невеста (The Prussian Bride,) 1998