Index World Press Photo
January 2006 | Edition Three     

Yevgeni Khaldei is one of Russia's most famous photographers.

Present at the fall of the Reichstag - where he took his best-known image - Khaldei overcame many difficulties in a long and eventful career to record the Nuremberg trials and many of the most important events during Stalin's regime.

It was on the May 2 1945 that Yevgeni Khaldei captured the image that became an icon of war photography: “Raising the Soviet Flag over the Reichstag”.

The day before, in Moscow, Yevgeni had found himself in the VIP restaurant of the Russian news agency TASS.

He remembered Joe Rosenthal's famous picture of GIs raising a flag at Iwo Jima after it was taken by US forces.

Grabbing a red tablecloth he rushed to his friend, a Jewish tailor, who used the material to make three soviet flags.

Then, next morning Khaldei was back in Berlin where he took several pictures in various places and ended up at the Reichstag with his last flag. The image he recorded of that symbol of Russian victory went around the world.

Yet Yevgeni Khaldei is not just known as the capturer of that single moment.

He dedicated all his life to his passion and his coverage of sixty years of the USSR reveals a portfolio that deservedly occupies a prime place in photo history.

Yevgeni was born in the Ukraine in 1917 in the city of Ioussovlak (now Donetsk). The following year, during a pogrom - a mob attack on a minority, either approved or condoned by the authorities - the first of many dramas in his life occurred when a bullet that killed his mother entered his lung.

He survived and, as a child, became interested in photography by looking at magazines such as Ogoniok, the major news publication of the time.

He built his first camera using a cardboard box and his grandmother's reading glasses.

Years later, his ambition to become a photojournalist was realized in the 1930's as he worked for the TASS agency.

His war photography represents the highest point of his career.

He traveled many thousands of miles - from Mourmansk to Berlin and Sebastopol - recording the liberation of friendly countries.

But being Jewish presented him with difficulty throughout his life.

During the war, German fascists killed his father and three sisters.

In 1949, the anti-semitism of the Soviet regime lost him his position at TASS and for 10 years he was able only to photograph the activities of Soviet youth.

However in 1959, at the time of Khrushchev, he found a job at Pravda but in 1970 he was fired again - always for the same reason.

Nevertheless he was a patriot and although his life was always problematic, he did not became a dissident.

The little that was generally known of Khaldei's work for many years was his war pictures with their strict framing and concentration on perspective and foreground.

Those pictures can teach documentary photographers much about photographic work and framing.

The other part of his work, far from war and representing an invaluable record of life in Soviet times, confirms just how important Khaldei was for photography and how much he deserves the recognition that came late in his career.

Yevgeni died in 1997 in Moscow at the age of 80.

by courtesy of Mark Grosset.

Mark Grosset Photography
Joe Rosenthal on Wikipedia (in Russian)



Berlin: May 2 1945

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Joe Rosenthal's image, which inspired Khaldei
© Associated Press

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