“Communism(s): A Cold War Album”

by Arthur Grace

When I landed at West Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport just over 43 years ago, it marked the beginning of a 12-year exploration of life behind the Iron Curtain. As a photojournalist for Western news outlets, I had unique access to both daily life and historic events across what was then known as the Soviet Bloc.

In those days and in those places, “access” took on a very different meaning for people in my line of visual work. I learned quickly that often while I was busy observing what was in front of me, someone from state security was busy observing me. This person might be the amiable representative from the state press office who was required to accompany me on my rounds, or it might be a more sinister and covert presence in the form of a plain clothes secret police officer who at times would appear as if out of nowhere.

Once I understood the obstacles I faced in pursuit of reality-based photographs — whether of everyday life or of more newsworthy people and events — I soon adopted the countermeasures necessary to do my job: misdirection, distraction or outright evasion. Although I was occasionally reprimanded by my state provided “minder” and in a few instances detained by authorities, I was able for the most part to photograph what was actually happening on the ground and capture what a given situation really looked like. This necessarily evasive pursuit of factual imagery became the ongoing challenge of my photographic coverage in autocratic countries in the 70’s and 80’s.

Due to limited visa accreditations for Western photojournalists, very few gained entry in these countries at any one time. As a result, most of my photographs were unique for the simple reason that I was the only photographer present. Since only a tiny fraction of the images taken on assignment ever make it to the printed page, I filed away the unpublished negatives and transparencies, preserved in archival sheets and stored in binders waiting
for me to return to them.

The reawakening in recent years of autocratic behavior in some of the countries I covered decades ago made me realize that many of my photographs from the Cold War could have renewed relevance — that images once considered “out-takes” have acquired new meaning or importance with the passage of time. This volume contains a selection of the most representative images I shot from that era, organized in a way that helps provide context to the multi-dimensional reality of those times.

Even though these photographs can only offer a mere glimpse of the Cold War from one photographer’s perspective, I hope they can serve as an historical reminder of what autocracy looked like then … and could look like again in the not too distant future.


“Communism(s): A Cold War Album”
Book available here.


Arthur Grace began his professional career in 1973 as a staff photographer for United Press International. During his award-winning career in photojournalism spanning three decades, he covered stories around the globe as a contract photographer for Time magazine and a staff photographer for Newsweek magazine. His photographs have appeared in leading publications worldwide, including on the covers of Life, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, Paris Match and Stern.

Over the past thirty years, Mr. Grace has published six critically praised photographic books: Choose Me: Portraits of a Presidential Race, Comedians, State Fair, America 101, Robin Williams: A Singular Portrait, 1986-2002, and Communism(s): A Cold War Album. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in the United States and abroad including the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and solo show at the International Center of Photography in New York and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Mr. Grace’s photographs are in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the High Museum of Art, the International Center of Photography, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the National Museum of American History, among others. His color photojournalism archives are housed at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin.

Website: arthurgrace.com/

Selection by Alejandra Martinez Moreno – Editor/Burn Magazine.