Born in Kiev in 1905, into the family of a cobbler. He finished school in 1922, and in 1925 began working for the photo-laboratory of the magazine "Ogonyok", whose head was his cousin, the celebrated writer and journalist Mikhail Koltsov. While working as assistant to a photo-reporter, he quickly mastered the techniques of photography and from 1926 began to publish his own photographs in the pages of "Ogonyok". In 1930 he joined the "Union" agency, where he worked until 1932 (afterwards transferring to Soyuzfoto) as a photo-reporter, editor, and manager of the mass-culture department. In 1931 he became head of the "ROPF" group, thanks to his creative methods which were based on a demand for realistic portrayal of action. In 1932 he graduated from the camera-operators' faculty of the State Cinematography Institute. From 1932 he worked for the magazine "Building the USSR"; in 1933 he became a photographer for the newspaper "Pravda". He was awarded a class 1 diploma at the exhibition "10 years of Soviet photography". At the end of the 1930s he was chairman of the Association of Moscow Photographers. His portrait "A Jewish bee-keeper" was exhibited at the 1935 exhibition of masterworks of Soviet photography.