In the United States, many gallery guards are required to dress in uniform and to stand among visitors in order to ensure that no one touches the artwork. In Russia, the traditions of a gallery guard are a bit different. The women featured in these photographs sit alongside the precious gallery artwork in museums as employees, also hired to protect the history that surrounds them, but not required to wear certain outfits as identifiers. Though they aren’t wearing uniforms, they do have an important task at hand. The women choose to work in the galleries and guard the collections because they enjoy being surrounded by Russia’s great art. Photographer Andy Freeberg found great interest in these women and created this project, entitled Guardians of Russian Art Museums.
Freeberg says, “When you look at the paintings and sculptures, the presence of the women becomes an inherent part of viewing the artwork itself.” So much so, that he couldn’t resist sparking up conversations with each of them and then creating this photographic project. According to the artist, many of the guards are retired professionals, including a former dentist, economist, archivist, and actress. They work hard in these new jobs and take great pride in the duties that they perform, helping to preserve and protect the magnificent pieces that surround them.
Based on scheduling, the women are able to request to sit in certain rooms, rotating based on where they are needed most. One woman returns to the same artwork regularly because the painting reminds her of home, while another likes to get out of the house because otherwise she says she would “just sit on her porch and complain about her illnesses, ‘as old women do.'” What a great way to spend a day out at an art gallery, getting paid to protect a piece of the history and culture of your country!