Ilya Goland was born in Daugavpils, Latvia, in 1918, in a wealthy family. His father Borukh worked in construction.
Ilya attended a Latvian gymnasium for eight years, while simultaneously receiving a Jewish education at home. In those years, Ilya became interested in photography, acquiring his own film camera.
In the early 1930s, the finances of the Goland family took a turn for the worse, and Ilya had to drop out of the gymnasium. He moved to Riga, where he found employment as an upholsterer and decorator at a furniture factory.
In 1938, Ilya was called up to serve in the Latvian army, where he was assigned to a horse-drawn artillery regiment. A year later, following the Soviet annexation of Latvia, Goland was drafted into the Red Army.
In late June 1941, on the very eve of the Soviet-German War, Ilya Goland was given leave to return home to Daugavpils. When German troops reached the area, he was wounded, and barely managed to survive. He eventually reached Tver Oblast, where he was attached to a reformed regiment and sent to the front. Shortly thereafter, Ilya was wounded and shell-shocked for the second time. However, after being discharged from the hospital, he insisted on returning to frontline duty. He completed a course of study at a sound ranging school, and was then sent to the Karelian Front.
In late June 1944, while trying to repair a disrupted communication line, Ilya Goland was severely wounded. He underwent a lengthy treatment at a hospital in Sverdlovsk. Because of the wound and the resulting gangrene, both of his feet were amputated. The city of Sverdlovsk, where he was being treated, was then home to employees of the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, who had been evacuated there along with some precious artifacts from the museum. Goland's acquaintance with the Hermitage personnel influenced his subsequent life.
With some help, Ilya was able to procure a film camera, and he began to use it extensively, photographing the work of the hospital staff and the life of the evacuated Hermitage (eventually, the museum would hold an exhibition of these photographs).
After being released from the hospital and discharged from the army, Goland was able to move to Leningrad, thanks to his connections with the Hermitage staff. His family had perished in Daugavpils during the Holocaust, and he had no reason to return there.
In 1947, Ilya Goland was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class, and some medals.
In Leningrad, Goland began to work professionally as a photographer. As a disabled war veteran, he was granted permission to open a private photo parlor in his first-floor apartment. He became a pioneer of color printing in the USSR.
In the early 1950s, Ilya Goland acquired a car with manual steering, which was specially adapted for disabled persons (a rarity in those years), and became a proficient driver.
Goland had a highly developed Jewish consciousness. He circumcised his sons, who were born in the late 1940s and early 1950s – i.e., at the height of the late Stalinist antisemitic campaign. He later taught them the Hebrew alphabet.
Having learned to lead a fully productive life despite his disability, Ilya Goland became a well-known Soviet photographer. He produced a large number of postcards, albums, and copies of picturesque landscapes (the Caucasus, Crimea, and other places). Goland photographed the Palace Square from the roof of the Hermitage Museum. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gifted albums of his works to the British royal family during his visit to the United Kingdom in 1956.
Ilya Goland died in 1977 in Leningrad.