The State Hermitage Museum and Henkin Brothers Archive Foundation present the first ever exhibition of photographs from a unique family archive.

Brothers Evgeny (1900-1938) and Yakov (1903-1941) were born in Rostov-on-Don. After the October Revolution, the younger brother relocated to Leningrad while the elder moved to Germany, living in Berlin from 1926 to 1936. Both brothers’ lives ended tragically: Yakov was killed on the Leningrad Front during World War II while Evgeny was arrested and shot by the NKVD during the purges. Many details about both lives are yet to be clarified by their biographers.

Original rolls of film in the Henkin Archive contain about 7’000 frames. Scenes captured by Yakov and Evgeny present a vision of the two cities with their everyday life, public and sport events, and portraits of relatives and friends. Yakov takes pictures in the parks and stadiums of Leningrad, Evgeny – in the streets and squares of Berlin.

But politics increasingly invade the lenses of the brothers’ cameras. Soviet slogans become more persistent; portraits of Party leaders become more imposing; ordinary Berlin café customers jump up giving a Nazi salute. In the end it becomes apparent how lightness and openness of everyday life slowly gets replaced by stress and tension accompanying the strengthening of two dictatorships that eventually claimed both brothers’ lives.

These photographs are valuable not only as unique historical documents. Their composition, light transmission and elaboration of classical genres and themes all reveal their creators as truly professional photographers. Moreover, the casual style of street and informal photography, rare for the time, is particularly valuable now for its immediacy, authenticity and originality.

Photographs made by two brothers tell us the complex story of Leningrad and Berlin of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Yet this story is told through smiles, glances, movements, and fashion that reveal more than any official textbook. The hypnotizing magic of photography moves to the fore to affirm the value of human life and the authenticity of a historical moment.