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Military Journalism in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia - Conversations (2)

Email interview with Yuri Tutov, Russian war photojournalist, 20 October 2014

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski

Dedication

Pipss.org is grateful to Anthony Zannino who translated this interview into English

Editor's notes

Yuri Tutov is one of the most well-known war photojournalist in Russia. He has covered many conflicts and was the first photo reporter to cover the school hostage crisis in Beslan. He was granted several prizes in Russia and abroad for his work in Chechnya. He has recounted his experience of the Chechen war in the journal Indeks. During the past years he has been extensively photographing the Russian prison system.

Full text

To be a photographer in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD)

PIPSS.ORG - Tell us a bit about yourself and about your professional experience at the MVD. But first, how did you become a photographer?

Yuri Tutov : Through inheritance. My father was a photo-correspondent and had long encouraged me to take up this study. I was clear on the basics and from 1980 I began to be published in all the sport publications. In 1983 I received the grand prix from AIPS (International Sports Press Association) in France.

PIPSS.ORG - When and if possible why did you start at the MVD?

Yuri Tutov : Toward 1990 sport in Russia collapsed, while organised crime was on the rise. I was sure that the methods of the fight against it were surpassing all expectations. I was aware that in America in the 1930s there had been something similar. There was no photography of the war on crime [in Russia yet]. I understood that I could be the first in that field.

PIPSS.ORG - What then were the motivations for this choice?

Yuri Tutov : To be the first. I was accepted for work at the paper Shchit i mech (Shield and Sword) for the meager salary of a civilian employee, not least because I had never served in the military and had fired a shot but once in my life, in childhood – from a slingshot. I hit a sparrow and have regretted it ever since. To work on this editorial staff was something nobody wanted, and I was looked upon as though I were an idiot.

PIPSS.ORG - What kind of access did you have to sources inside the MVD – in Moscow and in other regions – during the USSR?

Yuri Tutov : During the USSR I wasn’t working at the MVD paper.

PIPSS.ORG - Which types of MVD troops were the most open at that time? Which were secretive?

Yuri Tutov : All were closed then.

PIPSS.ORG - Which officers were engaged in contacts with you?

Yuri Tutov : Toward 1992 press services appeared, but always their primary occupation was to rid themselves of importunate journalists.

PIPSS.ORG - To which MVD service did you belong?

Yuri Tutov : I worked on the joint editorial staff of the Russian MVD as a civilian photo-correspondent.

PIPSS.ORG - In which MVD newspapers did you publish your photography?

Yuri Tutov : In the paper Shchit i mech (Shield and Sword) and the magazine Militsiia.

PIPSS.ORG - How did censorship work in the MVD?

Yuri Tutov : There was no censorship as such for photography. Writing journalists were raised in the Soviet traditions and knew their place. MVD publications were created for the purpose of whitewashing any scandal in the police forces. I always said: if a hundred policemen are lying about drunk, on the editorial staff this will be termed ‘operational coordination’ and ‘strategic estimate of the struggle against criminality’.

PIPSS.ORG - How did your work change during Perestroika?

Yuri Tutov : My work did not change in any way. The task to produce good photography remains even today.

PIPSS.ORG - What kind of developments connected with the breakup of the USSR appeared in the work at the MVD and in the work of military photography on the whole?

Yuri Tutov : Military photography began for me in 1994.

PIPSS.ORG - How did control over the work of military photographers change?

Yuri Tutov : To implement control over me was impossible, and nobody even attempted it.

PIPSS.ORG - How have your relations with the MVD developed?

Yuri Tutov : My relations with ordinary employees were always excellent. This is the foundation of my activity: the ability to associate with very different people, in quite varying – at times tragic – situations. Knowledge of psychology and intuition more generally are fundamental to the photo-correspondent’s profession.

PIPSS.ORG - Were you working in the MVD during the First Chechen War?

Yuri Tutov : Yes. From 22 December 1994. In April 1995 I came under fire in an armored troop carrier in the region of Starye Atagi. I have video of that incident that was taken by the operators of the “MIR” channel for International Red Cross. The film is called Convoy.

PIPSS.ORG - Were there discussions about the war inside the MVD?

Yuri Tutov : Officers tended not to discuss the activity of the leadership, but in December 1994 there was a problem: How do we refer to this unfolding situation in the newspaper? ‘War’ was not permitted, but we still couldn’t think up another name.

PIPSS.ORG - Were there discussions about the war among the war photographers?

Yuri Tutov : There was no time. At that time from 1994 to 1996 were many events: Budenovsk, Pervomaisk, March 1996, August 1996.

To be a war photographer in the civilian press in the 1990s

PIPSS.ORG - Why and when did you leave the MVD?

Yuri Tutov : After receiving three prizes in the USA and one in China, the management decided that the amount of prize money I had received was beyond all reason. The sum of money that I had received was equivalent to the sum received by me for the first of our joint work. The covert envy of the management simply forced my escape from there.

PIPSS.ORG - Have you worked in the civilian press?

Yuri Tutov : I have worked in all publications interested in my work.

PIPSS.ORG - In which papers and why?

Yuri Tutov : In the central ones, because there are somewhat larger honoraria.

PIPSS.ORG - How have your relations with the official information sources in the military and MVD developed after exiting from the MVD?

Yuri Tutov : I have maintained excellent relations with all of them.

PIPSS.ORG - How, in your opinion, have the military’s and MVD’s communications policies developed during the 1990s and 2000s?

Yuri Tutov : They haven’t changed. They have always sought praise and admiration. One who doesn’t offer praise, then, is an enemy.

PIPSS.ORG - Is this connected with the personalities of the ministers?

Yuri Tutov : It is connected not only with the Minister, but with the President as well.

To be a war photographer with international agencies in the 2000s

PIPSS.ORG - How did you come to work for the international agencies?

Yuri Tutov : I’ve worked with all the agencies. I arrived at the Reuters agency and showed them my work, and they started to buy it.

PIPSS.ORG - Can it be said that after 2000, access to information in the military became more complicated than in the 1990s?

Yuri Tutov : Access has always been complicated and is the product of personal relations.

PIPSS.ORG - What kind of military subject matters were banned for photography in the 2000s?

Yuri Tutov : Officially there are no bans.

PIPSS.ORG - What kind of relations do you have with war photographers in other publications?

Yuri Tutov : Good relations. We help each other. We exchange information.

PIPSS.ORG - Do you work together with others?

Yuri Tutov : Yes, if by some miraculous event everybody ends up together on one plane or in one place.

PIPSS.ORG - Is there competition among war photographers of the various mass media organization?

Yuri Tutov : Of course, it does exist. On the Internet we have the so-called photoplay where information circulates about the front pages of all global publications, and whose works occupy these positions.

Photography in war

PIPSS.ORG - Have you worked on the field of battle? In Afghanistan? Trans-Dniestr? Georgia? Chechnya? Other places?

Yuri Tutov : I was in Afghanistan, Dagestan, Ossetia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Chechnya.

PIPSS.ORG - What are your relations with military leadership? Do you have access to the soldiers?

Yuri Tutov : The leadership often changes, and there have been good relations, but I have one principle for soldiers: “Further from the command, closer to the kitchen.” It is unknown what to expect from them: they might kick you out and then you won’t be let in anywhere. With soldiers one must communicate with respect and share with them your cigarettes, lighters, sweets – anything short of vodka and money.

PIPSS.ORG - What was the access to information from the opposing camp?

Yuri Tutov : I listened to Chechnya radio, conversed with the population, used and analyzed all possible information. I predicted with an error of two weeks the beginning of the Second Chechen War – August 1999 – and I was the first journalist there. Time magazine requested my analysis of possible escalation, and my analysis proved accurate.

PIPSS.ORG - Could you possibly select 3-4 photos of yours:

  • one published at the time you worked for the MVD,

  • one that did not get through MVD censorship,

  • one taken recently that you would not have been able to publish during Soviet time and

  • one taken in Chechnya that you were not able to publish then and that you would not be able to publish even today?

Yuri Tutov : I am sending you eight photos from various years, with commentaries.

1Тhe photo was taken in Moscow in 1993 in the heat of the struggle with criminality. The MVD publications did not wish to publish it. They said: “The photo is remarkable, but we will not publish it”.

Moscow 1993, in the heat of the struggle with criminality

Moscow 1993, in the heat of the struggle with criminality

Yuri Tutov (CC)

Grozny, 1995

Grozny, 1995

To break through to the MVD editors was impossible. Western publications printed it.

Yuri Tutov (CC)

The young soldier, Grozny 2001

The young soldier, Grozny 2001

The young soldier was loved by Western as well as Russian news media. Grozny

Yuri Tutov (CC)

Grozny, 2003. Portrait of an OMON riot policeman

Grozny, 2003. Portrait of an OMON riot policeman

This portrait was at odds with the party line. Not published.

Yuri Tutov (CC)

Grozny, 2003. Portrait

Grozny, 2003. Portrait

Not published at the MVD.

Yuri Tutov (CC)

Grozny, 2003. Arrest of a female terrorist

Grozny, 2003. Arrest of a female terrorist

No love from the Russian MVD for the image. Stern was happy.

Yuri Tutov (CC)

Beslan, 2004. The onslaught

Beslan, 2004. The onslaught

In the Russian mass media organizations it was published little, if at all. The picture received two prizes in the USA.

Yuri Tutov (CC)

Beslan, 2004. The two girls

Beslan, 2004. The two girls

The two girls were enthusiastically published in the West. They received two prizes in the USA. In Russia they were not published.

Yuri Tutov (CC)

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List of illustrations

Title Moscow 1993, in the heat of the struggle with criminality
Credits Yuri Tutov (CC)
URL http://pipss.revues.org/docannexe/image/4075/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 496k
Title Grozny, 1995
Caption To break through to the MVD editors was impossible. Western publications printed it.
Credits Yuri Tutov (CC)
URL http://pipss.revues.org/docannexe/image/4075/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 1.2M
Title The young soldier, Grozny 2001
Caption The young soldier was loved by Western as well as Russian news media. Grozny
Credits Yuri Tutov (CC)
URL http://pipss.revues.org/docannexe/image/4075/img-3.jpg
File image/jpeg, 2.0M
Title Grozny, 2003. Portrait of an OMON riot policeman
Caption This portrait was at odds with the party line. Not published.
Credits Yuri Tutov (CC)
URL http://pipss.revues.org/docannexe/image/4075/img-4.jpg
File image/jpeg, 1.1M
Title Grozny, 2003. Portrait
Caption Not published at the MVD.
Credits Yuri Tutov (CC)
URL http://pipss.revues.org/docannexe/image/4075/img-5.jpg
File image/jpeg, 1.2M
Title Grozny, 2003. Arrest of a female terrorist
Caption No love from the Russian MVD for the image. Stern was happy.
Credits Yuri Tutov (CC)
URL http://pipss.revues.org/docannexe/image/4075/img-6.jpg
File image/jpeg, 1.1M
Title Beslan, 2004. The onslaught
Caption In the Russian mass media organizations it was published little, if at all. The picture received two prizes in the USA.
Credits Yuri Tutov (CC)
URL http://pipss.revues.org/docannexe/image/4075/img-7.jpg
File image/jpeg, 396k
Title Beslan, 2004. The two girls
Caption The two girls were enthusiastically published in the West. They received two prizes in the USA. In Russia they were not published.
Credits Yuri Tutov (CC)
URL http://pipss.revues.org/docannexe/image/4075/img-8.jpg
File image/jpeg, 3.0M
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References

Electronic reference

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, « Email interview with Yuri Tutov, Russian war photojournalist, 20 October 2014 », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 16 | 2014, Online since 03 December 2014, connection on 29 March 2017. URL : http://pipss.revues.org/4075

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About the author

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski

PIPSS.ORG / CERCEC

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Copyright

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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