The story of a photo: Gagarin

Gallery of Classical Photography begins publication of a series of stories from the book by Leonid Lazarev “Bullet for “Takumar”, in which the photographer thoroughly examines the life situations that accompanied the creation of this or that picture. In this excerpt he describes how he took one of his most famous photographs, of Yuri Gagarin at Vnukovo Airport on April 14, 1961.

Photo equipment

Leonida Lazarev and Yuri Gagarin at Vnukovo Airport on April 14, 1961

A communal apartment. There was a plastic speaker with a volume control on a framed door between rooms. The sound of this device was a gramophone. Levitan’s voice rang out. It didn’t happen often.

– Turn it up. Oh, not the war!

I turned the regulator to maximum. The sound is a little stronger. Slowly, with pauses, the announcer reported, the launch of man into space. Levitan has never before had to tell the world, over any radio station, such good news. You could feel his excitement and pride in what he said. Everyone jumped up and down from their seats. We surrounded this plastic box and listened to the launch of our man. The excitement, the pride in our compatriot, the pride in our country, probably overwhelmed all of us. It’s an unexpected feeling that entered us and didn’t come out for several years. The excitement gave way to a desire to shoot this still inestimable event, and I rushed to the editorial office.

Everyone was smiling. For some reason it did not seem to matter that the hero of the piece would be a man. “Soviet Woman” magazine. Everyone who can carry a camera is mobilized to take pictures.

– Your place at Vnukovo airfield. Accredited. I wish you luck.

These last words were said by my mentor on the run. The entire editorial staff was moving briskly down the corridors, something that had never been seen before.

A specially built two-story structure is all over the place for the filmmakers. They’re clever men – their assistants came in advance, secured the front rows. No cameras, but tripods and assistants are already standing.

– No, my place shouldn’t be here. I am an individualist, after all. It would be nice to be near the plane. The crowd will probably rush to Gagarin, overpower the guards, lift him in their arms and carry him, or throw him in an exhausted state, shouting “Yura, hurrah!!”.

So I find myself to the left of the whole crowd, in the front rows. Not far from the paved carpet.

– It’s flying ! Flying! Gagarin flies!

“IL-18” at a low altitude blasted with a low, all-deafening sound. The big plane was escorted by fighter jets. It was an honorary escort. By some miracle, in a fraction of a second, I managed to shoot this flyby with the foreground. It lasted no more than two seconds and then the plane was over the horizon. And today, looking at this shot I see that the escort fighters are MiGs, the fighting machines of those times, which today can be seen at the entrance of pioneer camps, maybe in museums. At that time it was the very technique that lifted a man above the ground.

The plane rolled up on the red carpet. The door opened. A few seconds and no movement. After a pause, a thin man in an Air Force overcoat stepped out of the plane and began to descend the gangway. His outward appearance, uninhibited movements and what he did was magically attracted to him. My heart raced.

I have two cameras: the Zenit with a long lens and the Leningrad with a wide angle lens. The second camera had a mechanical spring plunger for nine frames – it was sort of like an electric motor, which in those years there was no.

Gagarin walks down the walkway in a wide, firm stride. You can see an untied shoelace dangling from his shoe. I look through the camera’s eyepiece and feel bumps and active poking and prodding now and then to the left and then to the rear. Two seconds and a new hero will pass by. I press the camera to my forehead until it hurts, I concretize my body as a whole, and then I press the shutter.

There was no next opportunity. He approached the members of the government. The rest was far away from me. After the mission report, Gagarin found himself in the arms of many leaders of the state.

The airfield was filled with cheers of welcome for the new hero, and not at the behest of higher ranks, but at the dictate of the soul. Khrushchev had a half-insane smile on his face. It seems to me that the head of state himself got caught up in the excitement. And Gagarin, like a boy, raised his hand in greeting, he did not know whether to bow or not. Khrushchev was backing away from Gagarin by two paces, as if he was pushing him forward, “Go, little birdie, fly ahead to eternal glory…”. So they walked along the whole cheering human mass, and ended up next to me.

I changed cameras. The wide-angle lens and spring-loaded shutter helped me take a symbolic shot: Gagarin, who has just hatched into the world as a genius, a hero, a talent. The first, of all the people on the planet. And Nikita Khrushchev is captured in a state of good-naturedness, with a gesture showing – fly hero, you are our hero, American.

Everyone began to step down from the small platform and get into their cars for the ride back into town. At that moment the entire horde of tripod and lens people, photographers and movie makers raced from their “teahouse” to the cars, to catch up with the government motorcade and shoot something on the way. But it could not be done, as the exit of the airfield was open for the departing leaders, and the press and movies had to run to their cars, which were parked somewhere in the parking lot. I also found myself among the runners, but unsuccessful. Next to me, people with tripods, film cameras, cameras were frantically running both left and right. I found myself next to a Volkswagen Beetle. With trembling hands, the owner tried to put the key in the car door latch, it did not work. He shouted something in English.

The driver got in the car and gestured for me to get in. This was my first time in a popular VW of those days. We rushed, gasping, squealing and rattling, hitting the horn, forward into town.

Our enthusiasm waned as there were a lot of cars. We found ourselves in a long line of that very escort, somewhere at the tail end of it, and we drove into town, seeing huge crowds of people standing to the left and right of the road. People were already breaking up, because the main hero with the invisible crown on his head passed in front of us and the honors were paid to him, the shouts were heard, the lungs were emptied, and the strength was expended. There was nothing to shoot.

I began to notice that my driver often looks at the camera that is around my neck. He began to point his finger at the camera, rambling something as he did so. I naively thought he was interested in my camera. I did not yet know that something important, unique, singular and unrepeatable was on the tape, and that I was the author of it. A new acquaintance with his right hand reached into the cloak he was wearing, and I saw something green in his hands, and quite a lot. That was the first time I saw American dollars. I shuddered in fright.

– Stop, stop.

After jumping out of the car and getting a breath of fresh air, I felt relieved.

Being a photojournalist, in the apartment of another cosmonaut we got to talking about Gagarin, whom I called Yura. My new hero looking intently at me says:

– Look, what kind of Yura is he to you?!?

I had not expected this turn of conversation and answered grudgingly:

– When respecting, of course, a name and patronymic are necessary, but when admiring, Yura, Yurochka.

My interlocutor got a little bit confused. There was silence in the room.

Rate this article
( No ratings yet )
Add Comments

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: