It is 1942. The day is cloudy and cold in the Soviet village of
Lifeless, frozen bodies are strewn across the barren, snowy
landscape. Distraught family members are surveying the scene,
attempting to identify the bodies of their brothers, fathers,
husbands and friends following a bloody German massacre on the
One woman, covered in a long coat and a headscarf, sobs
uncontrollably over the body of a relative.
This is the image captured in Dmitri Baltermants’
black-and-white photograph, “Grief,” one of his most renowned
shots. This photo and more than 80 others taken by Baltermants will
be on display in the Hatton Gallery of the Visual Arts Building
until March 5.
Baltermants, who died in 1990, was one of the preeminent
photographers of the Soviet Union, and his images capture the
collective despair, joy and hope experienced by the Soviets from
the World War II era to the 1980s.
“This work has rarely been seen in the U.S. It gives us a far
greater understanding of the history of the Soviet Union and a time
period that has not been well-known to the American public,” said
gallery Director Linda Frickman. “When we were in the period of the
Cold War, we didn’t really understand it. These photographs give us
For much of his life, Baltermants worked as a photo editor for
the Soviet newsmagazine “Ogonyok” and was an official photographer
to the Kremlin. Working so closely with the Soviet government gave
Baltermants access to photograph people and events that could be
afforded to few others.
Baltermants took pictures of many principal Soviets such as
Stalin, Khrushchev, and Tchaikovsky, and other world leaders
including Castro and Ho Chi Minh.
“Everyone knew him so they always felt at ease around him, and
he was always within a few feet of the secretary that he
photographed,” said Paul Harbaugh, who along with his wife owns the
collection of Baltermants’ work that makes up the exhibit. “He was
able to capture oftentimes, moments that other photographers never
would have even had the access to.”
His position at the “Ogonyok” magazine gave Baltermants much
control over what images the entire world, along with the citizens
of his own country, saw of the Soviet Union.
“What he allowed to be printed in his magazine is what the
Soviet people saw. What’s so important is that these are the images
that the rest of the world were able to see about the Soviet Union
also,” Harbaugh said. “He was the eye of the nation, so to
Alison Smith, an assistant professor of history, said the images
Baltermants captured with his camera are so impacting and unique
partly because they depict things with which many Americans are
“We tend to forget about the part the Soviet Union played in the
second World War, for example, so it’s useful to be reminded of the
incredible hardship the Soviet Union went through in that period.
It lost 20 to 28 million people. These photographs really bring
home the degree to which the Soviet Union was affected,” she
Smith also thinks Baltermants’ work is special because he not
only photographed a grieving, war-torn Soviet Union but also a
country full of life and character. Some of his pictures depict
smiling Soviets attending dance parties and parades.
“(The pictures) show the power of the Soviet leadership, but
also elements of everyday life, what it was like to live in the
Soviet Union, which wasn’t always grim,” Smith said.
Rick Bieker, a senior history major, works as a guard at the
Hatton Gallery and said he enjoys the exhibit because of the
historical significance behind the photographs.
“I think it’s a great show,” Bieker said. “It’s got so much
history. The pictures, since they’re black and white, are beautiful
Matthew Ryder, a second-year student visiting from an Australian
university, agreed the photos are both aesthetic and affecting.
“It’s very moving. You can see people are dying but the
photography is beautiful-it’s not just the photo but the emotion
that comes with it,” Ryder said.
Baltermants’ photographs will remain at the Hatton Gallery until
March 5. The gallery is free for all and open to the public.
“The Soviet Union is no longer there, so what we have is only
this to look back on and remember the Soviet Union by. He was the
main person who captured those images, which are now permanent,
indelible images of what was of this great utopian experiment,”
said Harbaugh, who strongly encourages students to visit the