Visions of strife

Feb 092004
Authors: Lindsay Robinson

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

and vivid.”

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


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