The album was created as part of the REM project – the winner of the Second Competition of Museum and Exhibition Grants of the Russian Jewish Congress for the development of projects in the field of Jewish culture.
In the history of studies of the culture of Eastern European Jews, a special place belongs to the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition of Semyon Akimovich An-sky (real name: Shloime Zainvl ben Arn Rappoport, 1863–1920).
S. A. An-sky, Jewish author, playwright, folklorist, and socio-political figure, launched the initiative of an expedition in the Jewish Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire in 1909. The expedition was supported by the Jewish Society for History and Ethnography (JSHE) in St. Petersburg, and Kiev’s banker V. G. Gintzburg granted funds for its implementation.
The first trip of 1912 consisted of S. A. An-sky, photographer and artist Solomon Borisovich Yudovin (1892–1954), and musicologist and composer Yu. D. Engel. In 1913, An-sky and Yudovin were joined in their work in the Pale by folklorist Z. A. Kisselhof and students of the Higher Courses of Oriental Studies I. Fikangur, A. Rechtman, and S. Schreyer. In 1914, the expedition was interrupted due to the outbreak of the WWI.
In three field seasons, the expedition surveyed over 70 shtetls of Volhynia, Podolia, and Kiev Provinces. Its work proceeded in areas closely related to the history of Hasidism. The researchers recorded several thousand of folk traditions, legends, songs, instrumental and synagogue tunes, beliefs, omens, and charms; they collected over 700 Jewish household artefacts and synagogue vessels, and over 100 historic documents such as pinkases. The expedition’s photographer S. B. Yudovin made 1500 photographs in towns and shtetls.
The materials of the An-sky expedition formed the basis of the Museum of the Jewish Society for History and Ethnography. In late 1929 the museum was closed, with its collections transferred to various organizations of the USSR; currently, they are in archives and museums of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Israel, and the United States.
The Russian Museum of Ethnography keeps 295 artefacts collected in 1912-1914. Prior to his emigration in 1918, S. A. An-sky transferred this part of the expedition’s collection to the Ethnography Department of the Russian Museum for storage.
The expedition’s photographic heritage in the collection of RME is represented by a collection of photo prints (36 numbers) received from the museum of the Jewish Society for History and Ethnography in 1929, and a collection of negatives (66 glass photo plates) found in the materials of the former Jewish section of the museum in the early 2000s. The negatives were attributed as original material shot in the expedition of S. A. An-sky.
The photo collections present a Jewish shtetl of the early 20th century streets, residential houses and retail outlets, synagogues, cemeteries, and the shtetl dwellers, artisans first of all. These pictures allow suggesting that Yudovin was not only a master of ethnographic photography, but also a photo artist using techniques of pictorial (figurative) photography in his art, and portraits in particular.
For Yudovin himself, photos and sketches made in the expedition became material for further creative work as illustrator and artist. In 1938–1939, Yudovin donated to the museum’s collection his sketches of 1912-1914 and some of the engravings of the 1920s -1930s made from photographic images of Jewish shtetls. In those years he contributed to the construction of the exhibition “Jews in the Tsarist Russia and the USSR,” which was exposed in the museum in 1939–1941.
The photo prints and original negatives contained in the album were for the first time systemized by shooting territory (province), and are now published as a collection. As no documents whatsoever describing the photo sessions are available, some of the materials were attributed to the Southwestern Territory (generic term for three provinces of the Right-Bank Ukraine: Kiev, Volhynia, and Podolia, where the expedition worked).Read more