The fragment of the photographic collection from the Museum of Petersburg Jewish Historical-Ethnographic society, kept in the archives of the of "Petersburg Judaica" Center, contains 320 photographs. They are of different origin, yet the nucleus of the collection, both quantitatively and qualitatively, consists of photographs made by Solomon Yudovin (later, a well-known Soviet draughtsman) during folklore-and-ethnography expeditions of 1912-1914. Semion Akimovich An-sky, a writer and a public figure, organized these expeditions that became the turning point in the studies of the culture of Eastern European Jews. Altogether, in the period of 1912-1914, An-sky conducted three expeditions to towns and shtetls of South-Western Ukraine (Volyn', Podolia, and Kiev provinces). WWI and the revolution prevented further expeditions.
The destiny has disposed it so that these expeditions left behind not so much the reports, but the legends: their materials were hardly ever published, the collections were destroyed and disseminated among various museums and archives. As a matter of fact, the major result of these expeditions was the famous drama
The plan to publish of the photographic album that would reflect various aspects of Jewish people's life and art was not implemented — in spite of the fact that, according to memoirs left by A. Rechtman, a participant of the exhibitions, their photographic archive contained about 1,500 photoes. Materials of An-sky' expeditions, including photographs, were preserved in the Museum of Petersburg Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society, which was situated in the building of the Jewish almshouse founded and named after to A.M. Ginzburg (5th Line, Vasil'evsky Island, H. 50). In 1929 the Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society and its museum were closed, and the photographic collection was partly distributed among various museums of Russia, Israel and the United States. Presently "Petersburg Judaica" Center holds the largest fragment of the photographic collection from the Museum of Petersburg Historical-Ethnographic Society.
The "life course" of these photographs is rather curious. At least since the middle of 1950s they were kept by the famous artist Natan Altman, who used them for his illustrations to the "Selected Works" of Sholem Aleichem (1957). It is not known where these photographs were kept between 1929, when the Jewish museum was closed, and 1957, when they were used by Altman. Yet one can assume that it was Yudovin who handed them overto Altman, for Yudovin had been the main curator of the museum till the very end. It is known that the closing of the museum was rather chaotic, and Yudovin, who lived in the museum building, succeeded in preserving a number of materials at home. Later he gave a part of them to the Museum of Ethnography of the peoples of the USSR in Leningrad (now Russian Ethnographic Museum), and another part was sold by his descendents to various collections. No doubt, the major part of materials hidden by Yudovin were pictures; the more so, because he himself was the author of the largest part of the photpgraphic collection, Yudovin (as well as later on Altman) made an extensive use of compositions and motifs of this collection in his graphic works. The fragment of the photographic collection from the Museum of Petersburg Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society, kept in the archive of "Petersburg Judaica" Center, contains primarily Yudovin's expedition pictures. They represent inhabitants of Ukrainian shtetls; Jewish artisans and workers (largely due to An-sky's socialist beliefs); synagogues and monuments of Jewish folk art. The photographs catch the instances of expedition work, portraits of its participants, the exhibition based on the results of the expedition, prepared by An-sky in 1913.
A series of exhibitions dedicated to archival photographs from the Museum of Petersburg Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society allows casting a glance into the world of shtetl on the eve of the impending catastrophes of the 20th c.