This American photographer FOOLED the KGB and became a star

Nathan Farb
‘The Russians’ photo set, composed by Nathan Farb in 1977, was the first genuine depiction of the lives of ordinary, provincial Russians the West had ever seen. The photos became a sensation.

American photographer Nathan Farb pulled one over on the KGB and managed to smuggle back several thousand negatives depicting Russians with him. And, naturally, the photographs created a splash in the West. 

Farb arrived in Novosibirsk in 1977, as part of a cultural exchange program, together with a photographer delegation. He worked at the ‘USA Photography’ exhibition for two months, taking Polaroid snaps of visitors. 

According to the initial idea, the photographs were to be sent only to the people depicted on them (Farb would immediately give away the developed shots). However, the American decided to get a little tactical: despite the fact that he and other guests from the U.S. were under constant surveillance by the KGB, the photographer took a huge risk and sent his negatives home by diplomatic parcel.

“I just felt like I wanted to bring out something that was real. It’s hard to say accurately, just real; without propaganda, without politics”, Farb later said of his actions.

His plan worked: the photos of ordinary Siberians looked so natural and unlike anything resembling propaganda that it was something of a revelation to the American public. It turned out that the Soviets weren’t all gloomy, angry or mad, but also rather human and ordinary, like their Western counterparts. Moreover, they had style!

The semi-secret project was titled ‘The Russians’, and appeared in The New York Times, before being issued as a book, making Farb a massive star.

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