Galina Kmit: Prolific photographer who captured some of the globe’s biggest stars

When behind the lens, Kmit, with her unswerving ambition, was easily recognisable by her multicoloured, tightly tied bandanas and voguish oversized glasses

Camille Mijola
Wednesday 15 May 2019 12:47
Galina Kmit was a member of the Russian Union of Cinematographers
Galina Kmit was a member of the Russian Union of Cinematographers

There were not many Russian celebrities or politicians who escaped Galina Kmit’s lens. The photojournalist shot just about everything in her beloved motherland, from Kamchatka in the far east to beyond the Arctic Circle.

When working, Kmit, with her unswerving ambition, was easily recognisable by her multicoloured, tightly tied bandanas and voguish oversized glasses.

“If I need something, I’ll definitely get it,” she said. “Many people call me paparazzi. I do not think this is bad. Paparazzi is a person professionally performing their duties. Another thing is ethics and journalism. I can take pictures, but I can’t publish everything.”

Born in Soviet Ukraine in 1931, Kmit (nee Radysh), was the daughter of scriptwriter and journalist Vasyl Radysh. They moved to Moscow in her early years, where she grew up to love theatre and cinema. When she turned 17, she went on to study drama in the Russian capital. While studying, she met and fell in love with Soviet theatre and film actor Leonid Kmit, who was 23 years her senior.

Together, they would go on to have a daughter, Irina. The young actress also became the stepmother of Inna, Leonid Kmit’s daughter from his first marriage, who was just a few months younger than her. In a 2009 interview, she said her stepdaughter – an actress herself as well as a novelist and journalist – also became a friend, and they attended many parties and dances together.

Decades later she would say how hard it was for her to see her career sidelined by having to take care of a family. She spoke candidly about her tumultuous personal life at the beginning of her career; about Leonid Kmit’s Othellian jealousy; and about her affair with actor Nikolai Gritsenko, with whom she had a son. They decided to raise their son Denis together with Leonid Kmit; he gave the child his last name and raised him as his own.

Galina Kmit soon took a job as a correspondent at the Moscow-based daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. However, the camera gradually supplanted the pen. One day she asked Alexander Pasteur, an influential journalist on the Russian cultural scene, for some career advice. He answered: “Oh Galina, if only you could shoot!” And these were the words that would change her life.

She would go on to shoot Mikhail Kozakov as Hamlet and was soon offered a job at the now-defunct Spark magazine. The photographer said: “In my youth, I was shooting everything. But in adulthood, I switched to the theatre, cinema, actors, directors.”

For 30 years she worked at the Novosti news agency, which was the leading information and press body of Soviet public organisations. During her career, she shot national and international public figures, from the likes of French stars Gérard Depardieu and Alain Delon, to the eminent Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov and the prolific actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov.

As active as she was in her photography career, her dream of becoming an actress would eventually be realised. She landed roles in three films: Russkoye Pole (1972), Rol (1993) and Ka-ka-du (1993).

Over the years, Kmit built up a collection of pictures of public figures, which she decided to compile and exhibit in 2000. She devised two world-touring shows called These Magnificent Men and My Rivals; the former depicting only famous men and the latter depicting only famous women.

At the time of her death, Kmit lived in an apartment in Moscow. The cause of death is still unknown and, having been widowed in 1982, she is survived only by her daughter Irina and son Denis.

Galina Kmit, photographer, born 16 December 1931, died 20 April 2019

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