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Sovfoto was established in 1932 as the only agency to represent Soviet photojournalism in America. [1] [2] It continues today as a commercial entity Sovfoto/Eastfoto. Collections from its archive are held also at MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie, Canada which in 2001 was donated 23,116 vintage gelatin silver prints dating from 1936 to 1957, [3] while Amhurst University holds the Tass Sovfoto Photograph Collection, 1919–1963, the majority being from 1943–1963.



Sovfoto agency was originally established by the USSR in New York in the early 1930s to distribute Soviet press photography throughout North America. After 1941 Sovfoto received photographs, on consignment, from the Sovinformburo (Совинформбюро), culled from TASS. All were printed in the USSR with English captions as they were intended for a North American audience. [4] Associated Press and all the major wire agencies sourced the material, and offered it to illustrated magazines like Life and Look , and also communist-aligned and communist-sympathetic publications, as well as selling to the State Department as the only source of regular visual reportage on the Soviet Union.

After World War II, it continued, adding imagery from Eastern European countries of the Communist bloc as well as China. The agency started doing business as Sovfoto/Eastfoto in the late 1940s, moving offices several times under a series of American owners, including Helen Black (at 11 West Forty-second Street, New York City 18, then 15 West 44th Street) up to 1952, Edwin S. Smith to 1964 (at 24 West 45th Street), then Liuba Solov at 25 West 43rd Street. Solov managed the business until 1974 when Leah Siegel took ownership, moving in 1987 to 225 West 34th Street Suite 1505, and employing Victoria Edwards who bought the company in the early 1990s. Edwards’ son Vanya took over upon her retirement and is the current owner/manager.

Until the fall of the Communist/Soviet bloc, Sovfoto remained the exclusive legitimate source of news photography from the Communist countries and it continues to represent ITAR-TASS in Russia and Xinhua in China and others, while maintaining the historical archive.

As a Communist bloc agency, Sovfoto came under suspicion during the McCarthy era. When Sovfoto released photographs of purported biological warfare committed by the Americans, the then-owner Edwin Smith was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify on his role in their publication. [5] At the time of his ownership as ‘Foreign Principal’, the Report of the Attorney General to the Congress of the United States on the Administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 as Amended June 1951, for the Calendar Year 1955, notes that ‘Propaganda photographs (for the U.S.S.R.) are distributed by Edwin S. Smith, doing business under the name of Sovfoto Agency’ as well as ‘propaganda material from Communist China’. [6] Smith (1891–1975) was owner and manager of Am-Rus Literary and Music Agency, also Sovfoto and Eastfoto Agency from 1952–64, and represented legations and press and photo agencies Mezhdunarodnaja Kniga, Moscow; Czechopress, Prague; China Photo Service, Peking; Agerpress, Bucharest; Zentral Bild, East Berlin; Hungarian Review Photo Service (formerly Hungarian Bulletin), Budapest; Legation of the Hungarian People's Republic; Czechoslovakian Embassy; Legation of the People's Republic of Rumania; Polish Embassy; Czechoslovak Life, Prague; Cartimex (previouslyj Centrul de Librarii Si Difuzare a Cartii "IMEX"), Bucharest; and Artia, Prague. The agency received $40,872.75 from sale of photographs in 1955. [7]

The Agency continues to operate from 263 West 20th St. #3 New York 10011 under the management of Vanya Edwards.


The Sovfoto archive is of high historical and social value in representing perspectives from the other side of the Iron Curtain. It holds the largest collection of photographs of Stalinist USSR outside of the state archives in Moscow. Furthermore, it includes images of Russia from the time of the Tsars, through Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Gorbachev, and Yeltsin, World War II and Militaria and a wide range of areas from Soviet society. Dr. Margarita Tupitsyn, curator and author of The Soviet Photograph, 1924–1937 wrote:

"The Sovfoto archive is of unquestionable status....Many of the photographs stand out as artistically remarkable and strong images as well as documentation of the human experience... The Sovfoto archive presents a visual depository for rich interdisciplinary studies, including photography, sociology, psychology and history...The annotations on the back of each photograph further enables the researcher to delve into invaluable historical layers of knowledge that would require a long time to find in other sources...The Sovfoto archive is the only one of its kind in North America."

These photographs present the state-sanctioned, propagandistic promotion of the progress and achievements of socialism. At the outbreak of World War II, many Soviet photographers became war correspondents, incorporating the photographic invention of the revolutionary avant-garde in documenting the lives and deaths of Russian troops, conflict, destruction and German atrocities.

The photographers

The archive contains images taken by many anonymous photographers, as well as the foremost Soviet photographers, documenting a period of history in the twentieth century which has had a very lasting impact. It includes hundreds of examples of photographs by some of the most important Soviet artists of their time. After the crackdown of 1932, many of the Soviet Union's leading avant-garde photographers found that their only available means of expression was press photography. The Sovfoto archive includes images from many Soviet photographers who have become historically important:

Max Alpert (1899-1980)

Worked in the newspaper "Pravda", where he made portraits of major Soviet and many foreign politicians, military and writers. During the Great Patriotic War he was a TASS correspondent and Information Bureau, has worked both in the rear and at the front, in a combat situation. His most famous photograph "Combat" became one of the symbols of the Soviet war. In the postwar years he collaborated with different publications. He was the lead photographer for the press agency "Novosti".

Dmitri Baltermans

D. Samson Cernov (1887–1929)

photographed the Balkan War and World War I 1912–18

Mark Markov-Grinberg (1907–2006)

Samary Mikhailovitch Gurary, (Samarii Gurarii)

His famous portrait of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill at the Yalta Conference appeared on the front page of Pravda 13 Feb 1945

Boris Vsevolodovich Ignatovich (1899–1979)

Yevgeny Khaldei (1917-1997)

At 18 years old Khaldei began working as a photographer and in 1939 represented the TASS "News in pictures". Photographed the Dnieper Dam project and its worker hero Alexey Stakhanov. He photographed throughout World War II, his most famous image being the "Victory Banner over the Reichstag". He documented the liberation of Sevastopol, the storming of Novorossiysk, Kerch, liberation of Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Austria, Hungary, Severomorsk and the sailors of the Black Sea Fleet, the Paris Foreign Ministers' Meeting, the defeat of the Japanese, the Potsdam Conference of Heads of Allied Powers, the signing of the act of surrender of Germany, the Nuremberg trials.

Oleg Knorring (1907-1968)

a photojournalist from the beginning of the thirties. He collaborated in the magazine Наши достижения ('Our achievements'), and other publications. During World War II he was a photographer for the newspaper Red Star.

Nikolai Kolli

(not to be confused with Nikolai Kolli, architect)

Vladimir Musinov

His work appeared in LIFE 29 Mar 1943 (p. 114) in a special edition on Russia, and in an article in the 11 Jan 1943 edition.

Vladimir Savostyanov

Arkady Shaikhet


His work was collected by Philippe Halsman

Major David Sholomovich

Formerly a cameraman for the Moscow Newsreel Studios, he mastered the duties of gunner and navigator in order to fly to record the dive-bombing and strafing of Nazi troops by Soviet planes.

Abram Petrowitch Shterenberg

Viktor Antonovich Temin (October 21 [or November 3] 1908- January 1987)

From 1922 Temin worked for Izvestia, photographing Maxim Gorky in 1929, the expedition to the North Pole in 1930, the Russian-Finnish War (1939–40).

Alexander Uzylan (1908–198?)

A staff photographer for Izvestia , Pravda and Ogoniok magazine. During the Second World War, he was assigned to the Black Sea Fleet as a correspondent for the Soviet information Bureau.

Alexander Vorontsov

Filmed and photographed the rescue of children at the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp by the Red Army, January 27, 1945

Boris Borisovich Zeitlin (a.k.a. Tseitlin)

"We had brought with us to Waldia one European who did not belong to our Unit, the Russian, B. Zeitlin, a fearless and indefatigable film-photographer." [8] [9]

George Anatolievich 'Zelma' Zelmanovich (1906-1984)

Zelma was a photojournalist on "Izvestia", "Ogonyok", "Red Star" and other publications during the 1920s and 30s, and a military photographer of "Izvestia" newspaper. He worked at the front in Moldavia, Odessa and Ukraine. His most famous photographs were taken during the Battle of Stalingrad, where the photographer created a chronicle of the battle for the city. After the war, Georgi Zelma worked for "Ogonyok" magazine, and from 1962 for the agency "Novosti".

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  1. "Sovfoto/Eastfoto Agency. (New York).(offers images from Russia, China, Eastern Europe)(Brief Article)", Photo District News, The Nielsen Company, 22 (4): S16(1), 2002-04-01, ISSN   1045-8158
  2. "Reviews: of leading stock industry source across the country & beyond. (Stock Photography Guide 2003)", Photo District News, The Nielsen Company, 23 (4): S10(13), 2003-04-01, ISSN   1045-8158
  3. Hadzihasanovi; Wlasenko, O.; Pacific, R.C.; Beveridge, S.; Fraser, S.; MacLaren Art Centre (2007), September 2007: Broken Promises, Soviet Photography in the Age of Stalin : Olexander Wlasenko, Robin Pacific, Sadko Hadz̆ihasanovi, O., MacLaren Art Centre, ISBN   9780973882933
  4. Shneer, David; ebrary, Inc (2011), Through Soviet Jewish eyes photography, war, and the Holocaust, Rutgers University Press, retrieved 20 September 2015
  5. Edwin S. Smith, [in] 1948 was identified by Lewis F. Budenz as a Communist in sworn testimony. When asked about this and other evidence before this subcommittee in 1953, he invoked his privilege under the fifth amendment[…]Since his departure from government service, Smith has taken off his mask and become an official propagandist for the Soviet government, as American agent of Sovfoto, a Soviet agency, and a long list of Soviet and Chinese communist principals. In his capacity, among other duties, he distributes photographs purporting to show that American troops have been engaged in germ warfare in Korea United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary (1953), Interlocking subversion in Government Departments. : Hearing before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Eighty-third Congress, second session [-Eighty-fourth Congress, first session], U.S. Govt. Print. Off, retrieved 20 September 2015(p.569)
  6. "There is very clear evidence that a man who is now working for Sovfoto, the Soviet propaganda organisation in America, decidedly influenced the administration of Labour policy in the late thirties." "McCARTHYISM ON TRIAL—II Communists In U.S.: Fact And Fiction". The Sydney Morning Herald . 8 November 1954. p. 2. Retrieved 24 September 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  7. REPORT of the ATTORNEY GENERAL to the CONGRESS of the UNITED STATES on the ADMINISTRATION of the FOREIGN AGENTS REGISTRATION ACT OF 1938, as AMENDED June 1951, for the Calendar Year 1955
  8. Macfie, J. W. S (1936), An Ethiopian diary : a record of the British Ambulance Service in Ethiopia, Uni. Press of Liverpool, Hodder & Stoughton, retrieved 26 September 2015
  9. Mochulsky, Fyodor Vasilevich; Kaple, Deborah A (2010), Gulag boss a Soviet memoir, Oxford University Press, ISBN   978-0-19-974266-0