Stalin’s Mother (Ketevan Geladze) (Margaret Bourke-White)


It’s a pretty famous picture, but it caught me up short, when I saw it just recently for the first time. Stalin had a mother. Her name was Ketevan Geladze. This is what she looked like, caught up close in this portrait by Margaret Bourke-White in 1931. It’s just one woman’s face, no more and no less. Her expression looks away from the camera, the head slightly cocked. Impossible to read from behind the black circular frames, the eyes feel hard, knowing, calculating, and sad. The photograph speaks to Bourke-White’s genius as a portraitist. How much patience, how much time did this photograph require of the sitter and the photographer? The black headpiece fills up most of the picture. It frames the face. Deep facial lines extend from the middle of the nose. They surround the mouth, tightly drawn. She was 73 years old.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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