The Last Rivet (Photographs by Berenice Abbott & Margaret Bourke-White)

Published in 1940, this book of images and text commemorates the completion of the Rockefeller Center in New York, begun at the height of the Depression in 1932. It originally came with a rivet motif dust jacket (which I don’t have) and the cover is even made from green velvet. Classy.

Before looking at the book itself, perhaps a word about these fine captains of industry is in order. The Rockefeller’s fortune was based on the success of Standard Oil, founded by the original patriarch John D. Rockefeller in the 1870s, and whose ruthless business practices ensured that rival oil companies were either taken over or destroyed, until by the 1890s it controlled 88% of all refined oil in the US. Eventually, in 1911, under pressure from the courts and the US government concerned about this monopoly, Standard Oil was broken up into different companies that make up the names that still dominate the globe such as Mobil, Exxon and Chevron. The Rockefellers owned a quarter of all the shares in the new companies, whose value doubled, making John D. the richest man in the world at the time. John D. Junior, son of the founding father, took over and was implicated in the Ludlow Massacre when the National Guard, whose wages were bankrolled by the Rockefeller controlled Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, shot and burned to death between 19 and 25 people during a miners strike in April 1914. I think it’s fair to say that the Rockefeller fortune was not gained by being nice to people. And just as night follows day, immense wealth and power buys respectability for a Medici-like family whose tentacles soon spread throughout much of American commercial, banking and political circles.

But wait, it gets better. At the same time as the Rockefeller Center was being built the family business was keeping some very shady company indeed.  Standard Oil of New Jersey (later renamed Exxon) entered into profitable partnership arrangements with the notorious German company I.G. Farben (infamous producers of Zyklon B poison gas for use in concentration camps and organisers of slave-labour factories in Auschwitz) as well as being instrumental in providing vital fuel additives to the Nazis (tetraethyl lead). This was needed to make aviation fuel in order to fly German planes and drop bombs on much of Europe. They even seem to have gone to great lengths in the cover up, shipping it through the neutral  Spanish Canary Islands (after re-registering all their oil tankers in Panama so as to prevent them being  stopped and searched) where it was then transferred to German ships bound for Hamburg. They also appear to have used their South American depots to supply fuel directly to German tankers. But it wasn’t just the Nazis cash that Standard Oil of NJ was happy to take; they were also engaged in similar practices with Mussolini’s Italy and Japan. It has been argued that through their actions they may have directly assisted in the bombing of Pearl Harbour where a substantial portion of the US Navy was sunk.  But this is not to say that Standard was choosy about its customers; it had no problem selling oil to the Allied side as well. Business is business after all.

And there’s more; another of the Rockefeller cash-cows was Chase National bank, which ran a complicated money laundering scam for the Nazis through the German-American community in which worthless bits of paper issued by the Nazi regime were magically turned into US dollars needed to buy raw materials for desperate German factories. According to documents released by the US Archives, between 1936 and 1941 Chase brought in $20 million for the Fuhrer, while at the same time helping themselves to a substantial amount of the $1.2 billion in commission paid for their services as middleman, which mainly came out of funds taken by the Nazis from their Jewish victims. The bank went to great lengths in order to hide their activities from the US Treasury and Chase is also directly implicated in seizing money from the French bank accounts of its Jewish customers after the German takeover and for being overly helpful with the Nazi regime throughout the entire war. After being investigated for these activities, Chase avoided prosecution using blackmail; they threatened to embarrass the FBI and other government departments if it went to court by spilling the beans about all the dirty tricks they knew about.  Then, just as now, it is virtually impossible to hold powerful corporations to account. And these are only the scandals that have come to the surface; who knows what other skeletons have been quietly buried.

John D. Junior in a rather cynical move considering the company he was keeping at the time, piously expresses his personal hatred of war in the book and presents large corporations as responsible, ethical beings concerned about the welfare of mankind; “War is often laid at the door of business. On its very face such an imputation is as absurd as it is false.” To reinforce the message, there is an image of the Final Abolition of War mural by Jose Maria Sert which was commissioned for the lobby.

Now, nobody’s saying that the Rockefeller’s were stuffing suitcases of Reichmarks under their beds or had a safe full of swastika-embossed gold bullion hidden behind the Monet in the sitting room. That’s the kind of thing criminals do. When you’re amongst the super-rich you don’t need to get your hands dirty – the company you control does all that and you get to cream off the massive profits from the rising stock prices. And of course, you have no direct knowledge of any possible wrongdoing because nothing is ever written down or said aloud. These sorts of things are done on a nod and a wink making it almost impossible to prove who knew what. That way, if something does go wrong some middle-management bozo gets to go to jail while the main players are able to feign surprise and shock at what has been uncovered.

Unsurprisingly, the subject of the Rockefeller’s profiteering from their Nazi connections is not an area that the book dwells upon – that kinda thing tends to spoil the feel-good mood.

The spin that the Rockefeller’s are peddling in this publication is that the centre was a happy collaboration between labour and industry, with both sides working harmoniously together in order to build the complex. Indeed within the book we have repeated mention about the gratitude felt by New York to the Rockefeller’s for creating, directly and indirectly, 75,000 jobs during the Depression decade. Certainly in an era of mass unemployment any bit of positive news is seized upon by politicians and the media to say that the future is looking better, but to exhibit such fawning gratitude towards the originator of a commercial project which was designed to further enrich the already super-rich, is, to pardon the pun, a bit rich.  In order to prove their gratitude towards the little people who did the actual work, there is even a photograph of a worker in the book, head raised as if in awestruck wonder at the vision of progress that he was helping to build all thanks to the far-sighted vision and generosity of the Rockefellers. One whole photograph.  Ain’t that nice?

Perhaps a more accurate indication of the Rockefeller’s attitude towards the common man was best expressed in their painting over of the mural commissioned from Diego Rivera for the Center, Man at the Crossroads, whose depiction of the potential power of working class solidarity (and an image of Lenin) didn’t really conform to the way they liked to do business.  This deliberate exercise of immense personal power to obliterate anything that might pose a challenge to them, I think, speaks volumes about the true nature of the Rockefellers. Although they pay lip-service to partnership with the people, their actions and business interests are all really designed to consume and exploit the powerless individual in the name of enriching themselves.  A few bucks thrown at some philanthropic exploit is supposed to paper over what has in reality been a very sordid history of greed, intimidation, amorality, manipulation, as well as the corruption and corrosion of democratic structures, not to mention aiding and abetting totalitarian regimes bent on world conquest.

Now I’m not saying that the photographers who were involved in producing images for The Last Rivet were in any way culpable. A paying gig is a paying gig; I’m sure that an assignment to represent what was seen as an architectural triumph would have been gratefully received by many. The photographs in the book come from a number of photographers, most notably from Berenice Abbott and Margaret Bourke White, although the individual images are not credited. Architectural images predominate with the main RCA building being presented over and over again. The largest image, presented as a double page spread, shows Fifth Avenue full of hustle and bustle and streets filled with traffic, which is the only image to make reference to the rest of New York city itself. The Rockefeller Center is presented as a world apart, distant from the mundane everyday of the chaos below.

The other main body of images in the book consist of the Last Rivet ceremony itself, consisting of the type of ribbon-cutting photography you’d expect see in the local paper; assorted dignitaries lined up on chairs, pompous stuffed suits and attentive crowds. A full page image at the beginning of the book even shows the man of the people, a be-suited Junior in white-gloves, doing a bit of riveting.

The photography in the book doesn’t work for me; it very much looks like what it is, a compromised mish-mash of safe images designed to flatter.  For a book that has the look of something that a lot of money was pumped into, the net result is pretty poor.  It wasn’t as if they were short of a couple of bucks to hire a graphic designer and really push the boat out and produce something really spectacular.  Some of the architectural images are ok but from the likes of Bourke-White or Berenice Abbott, I’d expect better. Apart from the velvet cover and the rivet motif, the book as a whole is quite unremarkable and, to be frank, boring. You could forgive this in part if the photography was good, but even that is, in the main, as insipid as the contents of this book.

But it’s not all bad; I do like the paper stock they printed it on.

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Moi Parizh (My Paris) – Ilya Ehrenburg

Life in the shifting uncertainties of Stalinist Russia, where denunciations, arbitrary arrests and sudden changes in policies meant you could suddenly become an ‘enemy of the people’ overnight, was a nightmare that has left Russian society traumatised to this day. Primarily known as a writer, journalist and poet, the twists and turns of the left-leaning Ehrenburg’s personal history should have meant a one-way trip to the Gulag but he seems to have managed to chart the treacherous waters of Stalinism with aplomb, and, unlike many of his literary contemporaries who tended to end up in a muddy Siberian grave, he was acclaimed and valorised before being allowed to shuffle off this mortal coil in 1967 at the ripe old age (for a Stalinist literary figure) of 76.

His international reputation and the fact that he was living in Paris probably helped to keep Ehrenburg out of the Gulag, but Stalin had a long reach (as Trotsky found out in Mexico) and being a Soviet writer was a dangerous game. To survive well into old age under Stalinism required a certain kind of flexibility and moral dexterity, involving the loss of all sense of personal integrity or morals, an ability to change your opinions in an instant, ratting your colleagues and workmates out before they did the same to you as well as being prepared to snitch on your friends and family to the secret police. Terror and fear poisoned everything.

It was in this context that Ilya Ehrenburg published My Paris, a study in words and images of the underbelly of that great city. Published by the State publisher Izogiz in 1933, and designed by El Lissitzky, (this copy is the faithfully reproduced Steidl reprint of 2005 which helpfully includes an English translation of the Russian text) My Paris is an interesting example of book design and an insight into how the Soviets viewed their proletarian brothers in the West. Ehrenburg’s familiarity with the city made him uniquely qualified to produce a Russian perspective on injustice there for a Soviet audience. This book certainly avoids the pitfalls and clichés that seduce many a chronicler of that iconic metropolis; the Eiffel tower only appears once in the background of a picture of a scruffy building site.

Ehrenburg’s introduction to the book, in which he describes how he used a right angle viewfinder attached to his Leica in order to catch them unawares as he was taking their photograph, does strike me as being rather at odds with his status as a fellow proletarian. As he boasts “I can talk about this without blushing; a writer has his own notions of honesty. Our entire life is spent peeping into windows and listening at the keyhole.”  In his defence we must also admit that he was not a professional photographer used to the rough and tumble of taking photographs on the street and certainly, from personal experience, you soon learn that street-photography can produce some ‘interesting’ reactions from the people you photograph. But this inordinate pride in deception and dishonesty that Ehrenburg displays, in my opinion, speaks volumes about his character.

Ehrenburg used his modified Leica to produce images for a book depicting what he describes as his Paris, the working class areas of the city and the poor that live there. A good portion of the images and text are taken up with depicting the better-off sections of the working class eating, drinking and enjoying themselves, which only serves to heighten the contrast with the homeless and destitute. The result is a procession of images we expect to see from a photographer documenting this kind of subject; dirty streets, comatose men sprawled in the gutter, homeless people huddled on benches, grizzled old women scowling suspiciously, shabby houses and the discarded flotsam and jetsam of material culture picked over by the poor.

Is there any empathy with the people Ehrenburg depicts in this book? I have to say that I can’t see it. Ehrenburg’s work skims over the surface of the human degradation and squalor surrounding him but he doesn’t penetrate beneath the surface of life on the margins. Even the text serves to negate Parisian poverty, describing it in a straightforward manner, showing it as a normal, accepted state of affairs with no solidarity between the different sections of the poor. The individuals in his images are presented as passive and docile. They are browbeaten, broken and selfish people, content to wallow in their bottle of cheap wine after a meal in a restaurant or collapse in the gutter.

In the climate of fear that pervaded Russian society, books just didn’t get printed by State-run publishing houses without layers of bureaucrats being satisfied about the bona fides of the author and the contents. To do otherwise was to shorten your lifespan considerably.  I would imagine that My Paris was regarded as ‘safe’ because it was interpreted by the Soviet authorities as a straightforward representation of systemic problems associated with capitalist society, such as drunkenness, homelessness and unemployment. The individuals he portrays are presented as pitiful downtrodden pawns of capitalism in contrast to the revolutionary fervour of the masses building a bright new future (under Stalin, naturally). This servile attitude is also used to explain why the Russian revolution hadn’t spread westwards across Europe; it was their own fault for being so weak and spineless. The flame lit by the Paris Commune has been passed to the workers of the Soviet Union (led by Stalin of course) who are in the vanguard of progress.

Although Ehrenburg’sbook is ostensibly about Paris, it is really being used to convince a domestic audience about the great strides being made in the Soviet Union.  The formerly revolutionary workers of Paris are no more; that mantle has been assumed by their Soviet counterparts who are now the only hope left for the working masses.

Memento Mori – Peter Mitchell

Continuing the theme of the changing British urban scene, this book is an in depth study of the ambitious Quarry Hill housing development in the city of Leeds that was designed to provide an alternative to the Victorian slums, photographed by Annan, that still made up much of the housing within industrial cities. Mitchell’s book is a multi-layered approach to documenting the Quarry Hill flats, incorporating personal narrative, historical newspaper reports, archival photos and blueprints, as well as his own medium format photographs, all combined together to produce a comprehensive account of this grandiose scheme to alleviate dire poverty.

Inspired by the Viennese workers apartment blocks built in the late 1920s, the Quarry Hill area of  Leeds, famous for its disease, squalor and crumbling tenements, was the site of an ambitious building scheme in 1935. This huge housing complex was supposed to offer a utopian alternative to the poverty that huge numbers of people endured in the city of Leeds. However, like many schemes that seem to offer a quick-fix to a complicated problem, the optimism soon faded and the unsuccessful Quarry Hill housing complex was finally demolished in the late 1970s.

After the First World War, Britain was struggling to come to terms with the changed social landscape of a country traumatised by four years of brutal war. The 1920s saw the rise of the Labour Party as a voice for the workers who would act in the interests of the common man and alleviate the conditions of poverty that had prevailed since the Industrial Revolution. As well as an increase in the political power of the working class during this time, the 1930s depression meant that tangible measures to pacify discontent found new impetus. The Quarry Hill complex was designed as a modern solution to the old and intractable problem of urban poverty and it was hailed as a model for other cities to follow in the years before the Second World War.

In a country where everybody’s home is still regarded as their castle, some commentators attributed the failure of the complex to the ‘foreign’ and un-English nature of communal living. Certainly the problems caused by huge numbers of people coming from traditional individual houses suddenly having to cope with shared spaces and facilities was a hard nut to crack and should have provided ample warning to the architects planning the high-rise developments of the 1960s. However, it is no coincidence that the late 1970s saw a sea change in terms of the state’s attitude towards the individual that found ultimate expression in the Thatcherite 80s.

The 1970s were a depressing decade in Britain as it struggled with the terminal decline of imperial grandeur, widespread social unrest and the collapse of heavy industries that had once defined its place in the world.  Thatcherism and the triumph of the financial service economy in the 1980s were the reaction to this collapse in traditional British power and the destruction of the flats can also be regarded as a harbinger of the new order to come. During the eleven long years she was in power, the communal social contract and the post-war safety net provided by the state in terms of basic social protections were a prime target for Thatcher and the subject of her most strident attacks.  The state’s obligations to the individual were reduced again and again as they were cast adrift on the choppy waters of the new free market service economy to either sink or swim as best they could in the name of ‘flexibility’ and ‘competitiveness’. Images of the crumbling flats, once hailed as a vision of social and collective harmony, can be read as a metaphor for the changing fortunes of a country that was trying to come to terms with a new world order in which it was no longer a global power.

Mitchell spent a number of years documenting the various stages of the demolition work which are presented throughout the book, detailing the slow process of pulling down this massive structure of concrete and steel that so many people had made their lives in. Interspersed with these images, he also provides interior photographs of the once proud flats still showing the ghostly traces of the hopes and dreams left behind by their former inhabitants.

The book uses newspaper cuttings charting the rise and fall of Quarry Hill to construct a narrative that begins with optimistic projections of communal harmony. Later the first criticisms of life on the complex appear showing that all was not going as planned. Finally, the book culminates with plans to obliterate this development from the urban landscape.

As well as this narrative, Mitchell successfully attempts to give some insight into the multitude of personal stories of the people who lived there and their changing aspirations and dreams.  Black and white archival photographs showing the construction work, birthday parties and ordinary life in the flats are woven in the pages alongside Mitchell’s own images of destruction.

For a nuanced example of the nexus between the official, political and personal narratives that are encoded within all such grand schemes of utopian planning and social engineering, this book is well worth looking at.

Information about Peter Mitchell is hard to come by but an article about the photographer can be found here.

Piatiletka – Michael Farbman & Margaret Bourke White

Piatiletka Farbman Bourke-White

The five year plan, or Piatiletka, instituted by Stalin in 1928 was his grandiose vision of transforming the Soviet Union from a backward, agricultural subsistence economy into a thriving industrial powerhouse that would rival the West. Huge resources were devoted to building up heavy industry, in many cases almost from nothing, in order to show how successful Communism was under Stalin’s leadership. However, in order to create this massive industry, Stalin needed cheap food for the people who were now going to work in the factories and the collectivisation campaign was launched. Collectivisation was designed to get rid of all the small individual farms and create massive State owned, monster farms which it was assumed would be more efficient and produce more food. (The reality was very different.) As can be imagined this traumatic upheaval in the way an entire society was organised cost a lot of people their lives, as well as laying the ground for a horrendous genocidal famine in Ukraine during 1932-33(the Holodomor) which killed millions.

Piatiletka Farbman Bourke-White

Published in New York in 1931, this book is an outside attempt to analyse the five year plan from abroad. Obviously the Soviet authorities were keen to gloss over the negatives that were already beginning to appear in their grand plan and bedazzle gullible outsiders with meaningless statistics about total steel production and increases in productivity which were supposed to prove that everything was rosy.  This copy was an ex-library book that had been rebound in hardcover that I got cheap off the internet and its not exactly a page-turner. German and French editions were also published.

Piatiletka Farbman Bourke-White

The only real interest in this book for me is that this is the first appearance of Margaret Bourke-White’s photographs which would later be published in 1931 as Eyes on Russia. Unfortunately Farbman’s book only reproduces four of these ‘camera studies’ so it hardly provides much of a showcase for Bourke-White’s work. Bourke-White was obviously kept on a tight leash and all the photographs are images that show how progressive the Soviet Union was becoming. Industry features in all the pictures; even the farm landscape has a tractor shown in it.

Piatiletka Farbman Bourke-White

All this tightly controlled propaganda was designed to convince outsiders that under Stalin’s guidance, medieval Russia had been turned into a modern industrial country overnight. This message was all the more effective because this coincided with the 1930s depression and mass unemplyment in the West, making the Soviet alternative appear all the more appealing. With a reputation for her industrial work, Bourke-White would have been a perfect choice for the Soviets; her main interest would have been on factories and industry and not the backward state of the countryside or the negative aspects they wanted to sweep under the carpet. Bourke-White was unlikely to rock the boat. At this stage, she was also an ambitious young woman trying to further her career so she certainly would not have done anything to jeopardise her access to Soviet industry and would have probably been quite happy to conform to the propaganda narrative being presented to her.

Piatiletka Farbman Bourke-White

This coincidence of interests between the outside photographer (who was presented as documenting the truth) and the needs of a state propaganda machine produced a series of images which were ‘marketed’ as showing the truth behind claims of Soviet progress when in reality Bourke-White’s photographs were carefully controlled fictions of a Stalinist fantasy world that was built upon unimaginable cruelty and fear.

Erich Retzlaff – Menschen am Werk and Die von der Scholle

Erich Retzlaff is a largely forgotten German photographer thanks to his involvement with the Nazis which has rather destroyed his reputation and credibility. Retzlaff had taken up photography after returning from the First World War and first came to prominence with his book Das Antlitz Des Alters [The Face of Age] in 1930. However, thanks to the humiliation of defeat in the previous war, economic chaos and the polarisation of society between competing violent political ideologies, Germany was in complete turmoil during the 1920s and Hitler promised to restore both order and national pride when he assumed power in 1933. Like his better known contemporaries, such as Erna Lendvai-Dircksen, Paul Wolff  and Leni Riefenstahl, Retzlaff was one of many German photographers who jumped on to the Nazi bandwagon. Whether this was done for purely personal advantage or if they actually believed in the racist Nazi ideology is open to conjecture, but elements of both probably influenced their decision to throw in their lot with the most monstrous of the 20th century’s evil regimes. Whatever the motivation, in 1933 Retzlaff  nailed his colours to the mast and produced Wegbereiter und Vorkämpfer für das neue Deutschland (Pioneers and Champions of the new Germany), a series of portraits of the Nazi big-wigs who now ran the show. (See here for more information about Retzlaff’s legacy.)

Prior to that, in 1931, Retzlaff published two books, Die von der Scholle (Those who till the soil) and Menschen am Werk (People at work), heavily nationalistic bodies of work, published as part 1 and part 2 of the Deutschen Menschen (German People) series. Even though these books predate the Nazi takeover by a couple of years, Retzlaff’s images were clearly appreciated by Hitler’s cronies and probably indicate that he already shared much of their worldview. Like Lendvai-Dircksen, the ultimate effect of Retzlaff’s photography was to present the Germans as an exceptional race. Racist thinking was not just a product of Nazi rule. Racism has deep roots and it was used throughout the nineteenth century by most European countries to justify colonial rule throughout much of the world. It was the late nineteenth century application of Darwinian evolutionary theory to humanity that appeared to offer a ‘scientific’ excuse for unbelievable levels of cruelty and exploitation that much of European prosperity was based upon.

Like many of Lendvai-Dircksen’s works, in Die von der Scholle, Retzlaff presents us with a vision of timeless agricultural harmony; of peasants living contendly on the land which is clearly in line with the heavily romanticised Volkish sentimentality that the Nazis incorporated into much of their ideological thinking.  This is a pre-industrial landscape and no aspect of twentieth century life is permitted to disturb Retzlaff’s photographs of rugged peasants who clearly belong to a different century. The traditional constumes many of the men and women he depicts places these people as belonging to an exceptional group and provides a stark contrast to the decadent excesses of 1920s Berlin that the Nazis despised.

Backward, rural, conservative society was seen as the repository of the true power of the German people. Retzlaff provides us with a fantasy world populated by racially pure people, or Volk, unsullied by outsiders and living in wholesome communion with the land. Ultimately this was used as justification for murder on a scale that is impossible to comprehend. After all, how else but through genocide could you possibly ensure that the purity of the German race would remain uncontaminated?

Menschen am Werk was published in the same year and in this volume Retzlaff turns his attention to people at work. This was particularly resonant in the context of the 1930s a time of mass unemployment, which ultimately undermined Weimar democracy, and led to the emergence of Hitler. One of the first tasks the Nazis had to do was create the jobs they had promised and restore the pride associated with the mythical German work-ethic both on a personal and national level.

If the countryside was seen as the repository of racial purity, then industry was the ultimate source of power that could restore Germany’s rightful place in the world.  German heavy industry would soon be charged with one task; to produce weapons to reassert German power over Europe and Retzlaff’s heroic workers are the representatives of this racialy pure group, through whose toil the Nazis would soon attempt to conquer the world.

Without the overt signs of Nazism this pictorial propaganda is even more insidious and effective. While both swastikas or pictures of the Fuhrer are absent from the pages of both books it is impossible to separate these images from the twisted ideology that used brutal conquest, the enslavement of both people and countries, as well as mass-murder and genocide, in order to protect and perfect a so-called master race that was supposedly destined to rule the world.

L’Italia Fascista in Cammino

By1932 Mussolini’s Fascist Italian state was 10 years old and Hitler was yet to take over Germany, which he did the following year. In many ways, Mussolini’s Italy provided the template for a Fascist totalitarian state where everybody and every aspect of life was controlled in the name of unswerving loyalty to the leader. Political, economic and social turmoil after World War 1 had created the conditions whereby a majority of people appeared to prefer the stability of dictatorship to the anarchy of democracy.

As part of these celebrations the (Year X of the Revolution according to the book) the L.U.C.E. institute, an official state propaganda  organisation which mainly produced films, published this softcover celebratory photobook showcasing the achievements of the Fascist state over the decade that Mussolini had been in power. As well as photographs, this 238 page publication contains a foreward written by Mussolini himself (in his own handwriting with a helpful translation in English on the following page) who says that the book is “to render homage to the truth and the act as a guide for men of good will.”  Photography and truth have always been uneasy bedfellows and here Mussolini shows that he understands that the power of the visual image in getting a political message across to a wide audience is second to none.

The book itself is laid out in the traditional country survey manner; beginning with images of the wise and benevolent ‘Leader’ and his assumption of power, followed by pictures of bountiful harvests and high-tech industry proving what great strides had been made thanks to Mussolini’s guidance as well as a none too subtle nod to the glories of ancient Rome. Then we have scenes of a harmonious society, all pictured in disturbing uniformity,  happily enjoying the benefits of the improvements in education, health, public building works brought about by the regime as well as a strong military to protect this paradise that has been created. The eradication of TB and the building of sanitoria is given considerable coverage within the book as a tangible achievement brought about under the dictatorship. Construction also features heavily throughout the photographs; the simple metaphor of building a new society is one that every dictator seems to adore telling the world about. Similarly, prestige projects are always a feature of totalitarian regimes and here we see the draining of the Pontine Marshes, with before and after shots of deolate landscapes and ramshackle hovels replaced by wheat fields and shiny new houses for lucky workers.

The photographs are uncredited and captioned in Italian, French, English, German and Spanish, indicating that this book was also designed to impress foreigners about the wonders of Fascism. Unlike the Soviets, who liked to get the airbrush out at the drop of a hat, the retouching is minimal, as is the appearance of Mussolini in the book. The cult of leadership was never as strong in Italy as in Germany or the USSR so although his presence is felt throughout the book, his pictures do not dominate the book.

One of the first things that strikes you is the cover; a montage of a crowd scene beneath the overbearing figure of Il Duce himself who is heroically photographed from below.  Photomontages punctuate the book and mark out the various headings and sections within it, but they are poor in comparison to the sophistication achieved by the Soviets (before Stalin). Unlike the Communists, Fascists tended to be rather stuffy and stuck in their ways about what they liked. Montages were few and far between in their publications; they preferred straightforward photographs and none of that fancy artistic stuff which the censor had problems understanding. But the montages do relieve the rather straightforward procession of black and white pictures of an illusory society in which the individual is crushed by the oppressive Fascist state.