Visual history of Soviet Union remains largely inaccessible

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Photographers for the old Soviet TASS news agency labored under censors and government demands that their work promote official ideology. But they also enjoyed prestige and privileged access as they chronicled seven decades of the remarkable and the mundane.

Now directors of the successor ITAR-TASS agency lament that much of the vast archive of more than 1 million photos sits in wooden filing cabinets in the agency's dilapidated headquarters, with no plans and no money to digitize the collection or ensure its preservation.

The one-of-a-kind collection includes the once famous, such as first man in space Yuri Gagarin, beetle-browed Leonid Brezhnev and octogenarian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya. It captures famines and other tragedies, ostentatious parades and Communist Party sessions. It reveals life under the fallen system: factory openings, fashion shows, cramped apartments and barren shops.

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