Evgeny Khaldei, beholder


Evgeny Khaldei's photographs are alive with grim beauty and haunting history. The 78-year-old Russian photographer, who visited Colgate this fall for an exhibition and series of discussions, worked for the news agency Tass during "The Great Patriotic War of 1941-45" and later Pravda during a 50-year career in photography.

Many of his most riveting images, a collection of 41 photographs titled "The Lens of the Beholder," were displayed in the third floor gallery of Dana Arts Center. The exhibition is part of a larger body of work -- 87 photographs in all -- that Khaldei has given to Colgate's Russian studies department.

Khaldei donated the collection "to the students of Colgate in the hope that in the future you will learn about these events only through pictures and not through your lives."

Faculty members Alexander and Alice Nakhimovsky learned of Khaldei, whose work was again becoming widely known during the 50th anniversary of the war's end, in a New York Times article. "We were very much taken by it and decided to do something about it," says Alexander, who wrote to Khaldei, describing Colgate and inviting the photographer to campus.

When Khaldei demurred, citing his age, Nakhimovsky, who was determined to at least share the photographs with the college community, dispatched a documentary filmmaker to videotape Khaldei. Vladimir Levin, who had visited Colgate to show his work and meet with students, befriended the photographer and shared his experiences. Swayed during the tapings, Khaldei asked Nakhimovsky in a telephone conversation, "Where's my invitation?"

Khaldei charmed faculty and students throughout his visit, which included the opening reception of the show and informal discussions and question-and-answer sessions. His grandfatherly demeanor was a wonderful counterpoint to the stark reality of his war photographs. He spoke of the circumstances behind the images, of Hitler's ascent, the liberation of Budapest, the Potsdam meetings, the Nuremberg trials.

Evgeny Khaldei has shared freely with Colgate the history he beheld. JH