The Henkin Brothers Archive is a newly discovered collection of photographs taken and partly printed in the 1930s by two brothers, Evgeny and Yakov Henkin, in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia, and Berlin, Germany.
For more than 70 years, untouched boxes with rolls of film were gathering dust in the home of Yakov Henkin’s family in Leningrad. Starting in 2012 it became possible, using new technologies, to digitize the thousands of negatives and bring the brothers’ work to light. During this process it became apparent that the Henkin Brothers Archive is a unique collection of 20th century photography and an important contribution to the cultural and historical record.
Evgeny and Yakov Henkin were born in 1900 and 1903 respectively in a prosperous Jewish family in Rostov-on-Don, in the European South of the Russian Empire. Their father Alexander, a successful businessman, was also the brother of Vladimir and Victor Henkin, notable Soviet actors in later decades.
During the upheaval following the 1917 October Revolution, the family’s life was upended. Evgeny moved to Germany and lived in Berlin from 1926 to 1936. Yakov, with his wife Frida, their daughter Galina, and his and Evgeny’s younger sister Sophia, moved and settled in Leningrad.
Photography wasn’t the profession of either brother; both were talented amateurs. Yakov was an economist, while Evgeny was a musician, playing the Theremin, a groundbreaking early electronic instrument. The photographs are a testament to the Henkin brothers’ great creative talent as well as an evocative chronicle of their times and surroundings.
In 1936, most likely in response to the growing anti-Semitic violence in Nazi Germany, the elder brother Evgeny returned to the Soviet Union, only to be arrested by the Soviet secret police as a German spy in late 1937, at the height of Stalinist purges. He was shot in January 1938. In 1941, Yakov enlisted as a volunteer in the weeks after Germany invaded the Soviet Union; he was killed on the Leningrad Front shortly thereafter.
Henkin Brothers Archive Association
To create an organizational framework supporting the Archive, a not-for-profit association “The Henkin Brothers Archive” was created under Swiss law in late 2016 in Lausanne, Switzerland. The main objective of the Association is the Archive’s study, preservation, and promotion.
The Association aims to place the creative heritage of the Henkin brothers within the cultural and historical context of the 20th century as a major, and heretofore unknown, contribution to photographic art and cultural history.