State-Sponsored Voyeurism

Photography from the Czechoslovakian Security Services Archive


We will probably never know the proper names of some of our favorite photographers of the last century. You see, these people were not working for the sake of artistic glory. Instead, they served a totalitarian state apparatus that was not at all unlike the cheerful government in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. And so what follows, dear comrades, are surveillance photographs taken by the communist secret police in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 80s.

They were spying full-time on average citizens, hoping to catch them in a situation that could lead to a swift arrest and a lengthy incarceration in some dank, hidden cell. With their cameras secreted in a suitcase or under a coat, the agents had no idea what was being captured while they were taking these pictures. Their negatives, in which one finds brilliant snatches of street life from a time that few outsiders were able to see, are full of unexpected gems. Total art from a bunch of communist lackeys and thugs. Who would have thunk it?

These photographs and more are collected in the book Prague Through the Lens of the Secret Police, which was released earlier this year by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Prague, www.ustrcr.cz.

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