Thursday, July 22, 2010

Iconic Photographs: Raising a Flag Over the Reichstag

“History is written by the victors.”

- Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)

Manipulation of images has probably been with us from days when people drew on cave walls with burnt sticks. Image manipulation now even has its own word – photoshopped – after the Photoshop computer software used for that purpose.

The photo below is regarded as one of the 20th century’s iconic images.

Click on photographs to enlarge

Taken by Yevgeny Khaldei on 2 May 19545 during the Battle of Berlin, it shows Soviet troops raising the Soviet Union flag atop the German Reichstag building.

The photograph was reprinted in thousands of newspapers, magazines and other publications, becoming one of the most recognisable and significant images of the war. The image was representative of the defeat of Germany, all the more memorable for the Soviet Union which had lost tens of millions of lives in the war.

The Battle in Berlin had lasted from late April 1945 to May 2. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war: over 80,000 Soviet dead and 280,000 sick or wounded; 458,000 German dead and 479,000 wounded; 125.000 civilians dead. Before the battle was over, Hitler and a number of his high ranking officers had committed suicide.

As Berlin fell, photographer Khaldei was ordered by Stalin to take definitive photos of the Gernan defeat and Soviet victory, similar to the Iwo Jima flag raising photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal on 23 February 1945. Khaldeie had his friend make 3 Soviet flags from red tablecloths, then took one series of photographs at the airport and one series at the Brandenburg Gate. Khaldei  heard that on the evening of April 30 a Soviet flag had been hoisted above the Reichstag, the symbolic heart of Berlin. He gathered some soldiers and staged a fresh flag raising above the Reichstag.

Unlike Allied photographers, the Soviets frequently staged, recreated  and altered war photographs. Soviet photographers were soldiers first and photographers second, carrying arms and taking part in battles.

Not content with the recreation, he then manipulated the image by adding more smoke for dramatic effect.

Original photograph

Manipulated image

Khaldei had one more manipulation of the image to make. The original photograph showed the soldier at bottom right, who is assisting the soldier with the flag, wearing a wristwatch on each wrist. The assumption was that he had been looting dead soldiers. Khaldei removed one of the watches with a needle.

1 comment:

  1. Re 'Manipulated image' above:

    "After taking the symbolic photo, Khaldei quickly returned to Moscow. He further edited the image at the request of the editor-in-chief of the Ogonyok, who noticed that Sen. Sgt. Abdulkhakim Ismailov, who is supporting the flag-bearer in the photo, was wearing a watch on one of his wrists. On the other was an Adrianov compass, which resembled another watch and one could infer that Ismailov had looted the pieces or otherwise acquired them illegally. Although the practice of wearing both a compass and watch was widespread in the Red Army, Khaldei, in order to avoid controversy, doctored the photo to remove the watch from Ismailov's right wrist."


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