Aleksandr Brodsky, father of the celebrated poet Joseph Brodsky, was born in 1903 in St. Petersburg. His father, Yisrael, owned a small print shop.
In 1924, Aleksandr graduated from the Faculty of Geography of Leningrad University. However, realizing that the job of a geographer would not permit him to travel, he also graduated from the State Institute of Journalism. Apart from his other hobbies, Aleksandr had a professional interest in history and photography. He later worked as a photojournalist.
In 1939-1940, Brodsky covered the Soviet-Finnish War as a naval photojournalist. He subsequently contributed to the newspapers of the Baltic Fleet.
In 1940, Aleksandr Brodsky fathered a son named Joseph, who would go on to become a Nobel Prize-winning poet.
In late June 1941, when the Soviet-German War broke out, Brodsky was called up for active duty. The editorial office of the Leningradskaya Pravda daily opened a special military department, which recruited veteran journalists and photographers, with Aleksandr Brodsky among them. Working as a correspondent for the Leningrad branch of the TASS, he documented the Siege of Leningrad – and, later, the lifting of the siege. His photographs, depicting the everyday life and atmosphere of the besieged city, were published in the Leningrad newspapers Sovetskaya Baltika, Moryak Baltiki, and Severo-Zapadnyi Vodnik, and in the Leningrad magazine. One of his most famous works of that period is a photograph of children from a Leningrad kindergarten on an outing (1942). Arif Sarapov's nonfictional book Doroga Zhizni [The Road of Life] (1st edition: 1947; reprinted in: 1949, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1967, 1968) was illustrated with Aleksandr Brodsky's photos.
In 1944, Brodsky was transferred to the Black Sea Fleet, where he continued working as a photojournalist. His works were published in the Izvestia daily.
After the end of the Soviet-German War, Brodsky was sent to cover the events of the Soviet-Japanese War. He was then transferred to China, where he ended the war as Captain 3rd Rank of the Soviet Navy.
In 1948, Aleksandr Brodsky returned to Leningrad. He worked as head of the photo lab at the Central Naval Museum. However, he was fired from this post at the height of the antisemitic campaign that marked the end of Stalin's rule. For a time, he remained unemployed, apart from occasional contributions to Leningrad periodicals. Rumors of the imminent deportation of the Jews served only to darken the general mood.
The Brodsky family was completely irreligious, but the father's inability to find a job, coupled with the antisemitism experienced by his son at school, inevitably made them more sensitive to the Jewish theme.
After Stalin's death in March 1953, the official antisemitic campaign wound down, and Aleksandr Brodsky's photographs returned to grace the pages of the Leningrad newspapers Sovetskaya Baltika, Moryak Baltiki, and others.
In 1959, Brodsky established the Faculty of Photojournalism at the Leningrad House of Journalists, quickly becoming the dean of that faculty, which had been his own brainchild.
Aleksandr Brodsky died in Leningrad in 1984. He was buried at the Preobrazhenskoye Jewish cemetery.
In 1972, Joseph Brodsky was expelled from the USSR, and moved to the USA. He never saw his parents again, despite numerous requests and appeals to the Soviet authorities, including by prominent American politicians and Members of Congress. Joseph Brodsky was not permitted to attend their funerals.