Born into a cobbler's family in Simfeporol. In 1910 he became an apprentice in the photographic studio of Gottlieb in Odessa. In 1916 he became a professional photographer. From 1918 to 1921 he served in the Red Army. In 1924 he arrived in Moscow and started work as a photo-reporter for the "Workers' Gazette". In 1930 he worked for "Pravda", then for the magazine "Building the USSR". He produced his most famous photo-essay, "24 hours in the life of the Filippov family", in 1931 together with A. Shaykhet and L. Mezhericher. Other photo-essays were "Giant and Builder", about the steelworker V. Kalmykov in Magnitogorsk; "Dneproges", based on a historical retrospective of a visit to Russia by H.G. Wells in 1920. In 1935 his series "Lenin and Wells" was exhibited: an essay in agitprop style making use of photomontage techniques.
He was an innovator in the field of photo-reportage, who through his inventiveness created portraits which surpassed many made under studio conditions. He campaigned actively on behalf of reportage and publicity photography as opposed to studio "artistry"; and also against the use of risky foreshortening and the excessive influence of purely formal devices.
During the was he was a war correspondent for TASS. He became famous for his photographs "Combat", "Tank attack", "Victory parade".
After the war he won many awards with his psychological photo-essay "Ideas and the heart (the surgeon N.M. Amosov)".
He received many diplomas and medals at exhibitions within Russia and abroad, in addition to many military ands labour decorations. He was awarded the title of Honoured Cultural Worker of the USSR.