There is an opinion that St.-Petersburg is a conservative city admitting no alteration of appearance and changing very little in comparison with other cities, but it is not so. The Northern Palmira changed many times during its 300 year history. Even in the last 150 years the city's image has changed so much that the contemporaries of Gogol and Dostoyevsky would hardly help a cry of surprise when passing along familiar routes. As any living city, St.-Petersburg not only acquired monuments with time, but lost them as well. In all times, new buildings appeared in the place of old ones, destroying ensembles familiar to the parting generations and creating new ones for their descendants.

Already in the early XX century, in 1902, jubilee issue of Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) magazine featured the article of Alexandre Benois, "The Picturesque Petersburg" which greatly influenced the movement for the artistic revival of the capitol. Benois called to save Petersburg from the "invasion of rude barbarians" trying to mangle its appearance. Five years later, in 1907, art historians and members of both Artists-Architects Society and the Board of Description and Research of the City, founded the Museum of Old St.-Petersburg.

The aim of the museum was "to collect materials concerning the history of artistic construction of the capitol, as well as its culture and everyday life". The museum's administration called to all lovers of the antique asking to donate prints, original drawings, blueprints, books, sculptures and architectural details left from destroyed buildings and, of course, photographs. Amateur photographers were asked for "printed images of both buildings and cityscapes". Many items were donated to the museum by its founders and employees. Thus was formed a solid base of the collection of State Museum of the History of St.-Petersburg.

The exhibition "Old Petersburg: St.-Petersburg in the Photographs of XIX – Early XX Century" not only continues one of the most important lines of РОСФОТО's activity, discovery and research of the monuments of photography in Russian museums and archives, but also is an attempt to attract public attention to the contemporary image of St.-Petersburg experiencing yet another wave of transformation.

We are honored to be able to exhibit more than 150 rare prints, mostly unknown to the audience. This possibility was ensured by our cooperation with the Russian National Library, Institute of Material Culture History of Russian Academy of Sciences and the State Museum of History of St.-Petersburg. The exhibition features, for example, a unique panorama of St.-Petersburg composed of 13 images shot in 1861 by an unknown master from the Admiralty spire, a series of photographs of the building of Liteiny bridge dating back to the 1870s, beautiful pages from the album presented in 1909 by photographers Boissonnas and Eggler to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich and his wife Elizaveta Mavrikievna on the 25 year anniversary of their wedding, and a series of "color" photographs printed by Photoglob publishing house in the 1910s.

The earliest photographs in the exhibition date back to the 1850-1860s, the very dawn of photography, when the technology of the new art form didn't yet allow to capture moving objects and therefore people were left out of picture. Images made by such famous photographers as Giovanni Bianchi, Alfred Lorens, A. Richebourg, E. Huard, mesmerize today's viewers by their serenity and clarity of familiar St.-Petersburg cityscapes. Pictures of empty city alternate with photographs of vendors, cabmen, policemen, workers and just men in the streets taken by William Carrick, Carl Bulla, A. Smirnov and others. Chronicle photographs – they are now called ‘reportage'- that show major events of the city life, unveiling of monuments, festive processions, construction of important objects, are also of a great interest.

Chronologically, the exhibition embraces all principal stages in the development of photography: there are prints on salted paper, as well as albumine, collodion and silver gelatine ones, bromoils, heliogravures, and first experiments with color, where pigments were added to the image as it was printed off dyed lithographic stones. Creations of best masters of the field, these works are beautiful examples of photography of the time.