This is an investigation about women who are docents and guardians of artworks, whose job is to provide mute testimony as to the importance of the adjacent art works. There is universality to this project in which the actual location, even thought these art museums are located the Soviet Union, is not really relevant. The docents work is to sit amongst art and be present. They are placed in specific locations to both observe as well as be observed, to scold, admonish, explain or be a deterrent.
Freeberg is likewise observing those whose work is to be observed, although the docents reside in the edges and boundaries, while the art itself is centered in the photographs. The multi-layered composition reflects a relationship that would be a common experience to his subjects; guests of the museums photographing the art objects while they patiently wait to the side.
In viewing these photographs, it appears that there are very few other museum guests, that the docents are the only inhabitants of these vast facilities. Occasionally, even the docents appear to be missing from their posts. I sense isolation and silence in the lack of personal interaction within the museum, which is counterbalanced by the ironic and humerous compositions by Freeberg. Perhaps his subjects stoic stances are per protocol and when the museum visitors vanish, who knows what then transpires?
Freeberg appears to be patient, playful and have a keen power observation for his subject’s positions, postures and poses. His photographs are not unlike street photography and in this case the pace is much slower and allows for methodical observation and framing.
His underlying sense of dry humor is revealed in the various juxtapositions of docent and the adjacent art. There appears to be an unspoken dialog between his subjects and the art they appear to guard, observed by the photographer and subsequently shared with the viewer. Perhaps over time, the docents create bonds to the art that they have been assigned to oversee, either becoming one with that art or ironically in complete contrast. Freeberg photographs one woman who is fully concealed to the point of wearing additional layers which are zipped up for maximum personal security while the adjacent painting is of a semi-nude woman whose revealing herself. In another a docent begins to wear clothing of the same hue and pattern of the statuary she oversees to the point of blending in and becoming indistinguishable with the art itself. As a result, I sense that Freeberg’s investigation is probing his subject’s identity.
The hardcover book is published in horizontal format that was becoming a standard for Photolucida, subsequently a standard no longer held to, but in this case is well suited to Freeberg’s body of work.
Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook