Starving Man Photo Review

This Picture entitled: Starving Man with bread ration in Leningrad, is exactly what you see. The Second World War German Siege of the Russian city of Leningrad now St Petersburg caused the death according to some sources of one million inhabitants of the City. The image itself comprises of a man in clear need of a decent meal holding the meagre daily ration of bread scarcely bigger than the skeletal hand that holds it. The most interesting aspect of the image is the man’s face and his eyes. There is a marked contrast to the darkness of his thick winter coat and the almost unearthly pale face. It was the sheer power of the expression and the multitude of emotions etched upon his face drew me to this particular picture. Clearly present within the man’s face is anger and outrage disbelief that all he can expect to eat for that day is in his hand. This is clear within his eyes and the sunken features around them, however tempered with this is clear exhaustion, weakness and a great sense of sadness. Donald McCullin’s work in Vietnam recorded moments of Agony, this photograph though it is not an overly distressing image in that there is not the blood or gore like MuCullins of the Old man and child in Hue. However the image shows a slower kid of agony, the type of pain one has come to expect from looking at photographs of war and conflicts.

 This subject could be potentially used to show the conditions of everyone in the city, representing a possible metaphor for the whole body of inhabitants of the city of Leningrad. In the eyes there is fear, there is weakness and at the same time a stubborn desire to endure that seems so typical of the Russian character during the Second World War. One could debate about the aspects of his face and expression. The number of paradoxical interpretations one could draw from the face of this individual are many, I asked people what they thought was going on in the photograph without knowing and there where many different opinions to what he may have been feeling. There were some who saw anger and stubbornness in the refusal to give up in the need to survive. Others saw an almost hysterical aspect in that he seems about to laugh perhaps in scorn at his current predicament. This was what drew me to the picture as the multiple possible interpretations of the subjects facial expression was open to a great deal of interpretation.

I noticed this picture when I was doing work over Christmas and I saw this photo compared to a thanks giving scene. It seemed particularly ironic that I saw this blatant comparison of two completely different experiences of the winter of 1942, this is still relevant today with the huge divisions of wealth and resources within the world where hunger, starvation and war are still present in this modern age.  The family enjoying a thanksgiving meal provide such a contrast to the emaciated Russian. Each of the family members is certainly better fed to say the least; the whole atmosphere corresponds to the relaxed and comfortable situation of the holiday scene which is clearly a posed photograph.  

Photographs of War and its effects on non-combatants usually prove to be harrowing scenes depicting the very worst aspects of Human Nature. Pictures taken after the Liberation of the concentration camps in the Second World War are possibly the most famous and disturbing examples of this. The fact that the majority are in black and white make the images feel colder and cause us to feel distant and alien to the contents of the photograph. Robert Capa once said “It’s not always easy to stand aside and be unable to do anything except record the sufferings around one.” In this respect the role of the war photographer is to distance oneself from what is being captured. These images are here to show the horrors of war, the side that no one wishes to see but that they all know that exists. The purpose of the war photographer therefore is to document the suffering of others whilst risking themselves to the same dangers.

I was unable to find the name of the photographer and this was the case of many others taken during the siege. The message of the photograph is clear; it shows the effects of hardships upon the people of Leningrad he embodies everybody enduring the same hardship. The photographer would have gone through the same as what this man and everyone else would have gone through. It is not uncommon for those who take photographs of the effects of war to remain anonymous, the death rate amongst war photographers very high and it is not inconceivable that the individual who captured this image may have succumbed to starvation.

A thought that arose was whether or not this image could have been posed or not. It is highly plausible that this may have been the case as the picture was used later on in the war as a propaganda piece in some cases. However if I was to exchange places with that man I do not think that I would really want to have a stranger photograph me in my time of hunger and despair. So I find it highly likely that this photograph wasn’t posed as many war photographs are claimed to be such as Capa’s “Falling Soldier” making the plight of the subject all the more profound.


Accessed 22/1/2012

Accessed 24/1/2012

Accessed 22/1/2012

L.Wells, The Photography Reader,Routledge, Oxon, 2003


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