Celebrating Russia’s Glamorous Retired Artists

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The Photo Blog
March 21 2014 11:02 AM

Celebrating Russia’s Glamorous Retired Artists

Nina Alexeevna Shumskaya, born 1927.
Nina Alexeevna Shumskaya, born 1927. She studied at the conservatory in her native Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan, and was invited to Moscow for her education. In 1953 she completed her education and started a career as an opera singer. She has played more than 40 characters.

Lucia Ganieva

Many people find retirement homes to be dull, sterile places. But this is not so in the case the Savina House for Veterans of the Stage in St. Petersburg, Russia, which is home to many retired actors, dancers, and luminaries of the arts.

In 2006, Lucia Ganieva decided to pay a visit to the home while traveling in Russia. Built in the mid-1890s and situated on one of the islands that make up St. Petersburg, the beautiful complex consists of three buildings in a park filled with gardens, fruit trees, ponds, and walking trails, with an interior decorated with antiques. “When I visited and saw the magnificent building and spoke with the people, I immediately got my idea for a photo project,” Ganieva recalled.

That project, “Sunset of Fame” is a series of 24 diptychs that include a portrait of the retired actors, artists, opera singers, and ballet dancers, paired with stills of their rooms decorated with memorabilia from their past.

Bazlova Lyubov Stepanovna, born 1923.
Bazlova Lyubov Stepanovna, born 1923. When she was 8 years old, Lyuba studied at the ballet school of the opera theater in Novosibirsk, Russia, but an injury ended her ballet career. In 1939 she auditioned at the studio of the Russian drama theater; she was the only girl auditioning. She worked for 41 years and played more than 200 roles.

Lucia Ganieva

Boris Nikolaevich Leonov, born 1932.
Boris Nikolaevich Leonov, born 1932. Undecided about a career as an actor, Leonov enrolled in the National Theatre Institute of Kharkov. There he played his first role in opera productions.

Lucia Ganieva

Vera Markovna Sonina, born 1918.
Vera Markovna Sonina, born 1918. During her childhood, there was no sign she would become an actress—more likely she would become a sportswoman. During her studies she was appointed producer of the sports parade held in Bulgaria, where she was grounded by the war and worked as a nurse. After the war she went to a theater school and found a job at a children's theater.

Lucia Ganieva

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For Ganieva, who was born in Russia but has lived in the Netherlands since 1993, the project was a chance to learn about the retired artists’ personal histories as well as the history of Russia. “Sometimes I had to sit two or three hours talking with one of them, with a cup of tea and some sweets and looking at the souvenirs of their past,” she said. “It was very pleasant to work there. Many of the retired artists are still living in the past. They even perform now and then on a stage [at the home].”

Ganieva said although many of the artists reacted differently when approached about participating in the project, most of them were pleased to be part of it. The youngest person she met was in her 60s and the oldest was 97. Their rooms at the home are tiny but filled with memories. “I found it important to show in my pictures both aspects of their lives, and that is why I chose to make diptychs,” Ganieva said. “The artists were all well-known in Russia before, but now their career lies far in the past, and they miss being the center of [attention].”

“Sunset of Fame” has been shown in a number of exhibits. In 2008 it was on view at the National Centre of Photography for the Russian Federation in St. Petersburg, and many of the residents were able to visit to see the series. Ganieva said she’s grateful to have made the project. “In in a way, all the memories of these artists have become my own,” she said.

Klavdia Sergeevna Otyakovskay, born 1918.
Klavdia Sergeevna Otyakovskay, born 1918. Her father wanted her to become a doctor, so she was sent to the medical institute, but she dropped out after three years. She decided to go to theater school and hid her enrollment from her father. After one year she took an assisting role in a play by Alexander Aleksandr Ostrovsky, and her career as an actress began.

Lucia Ganieva

Valentin Vlasovich Pautov, born 1927.
Valentin Vlasovich Pautov, born 1927. At 18, Pautov voluntarily went to fight in World War II. After the war, he went to work as a manager in the House of Culture and took part in performances. He spent 30 years in theater and played approximately 80 roles.

Lucia Ganieva

Marina Borisovna Pronina, born 1925.
Marina Borisovna Pronina, born 1925. She studied at the National Theatre Institute of Leningrad, Russia, and graduated in 1958 as a technical artist.

Lucia Ganieva

Maria Lazarevna Lejeune, born 1925.
Maria Lazarevna Lejeune, born 1925. She graduated from Leningrad University and became a history professor. In 1948, she moved to a school near Moscow to work as a history teacher. In 1967 she received an award for her seminars on communism.

Lucia Ganieva

Tamara Fedorovna Gulkovskaya, born 1920.
Tamara Fedorovna Gulkovskaya, born 1920. She started her acting career in the Bolshoi Drama Theater, but her career was stalled during the war. Afterward, she worked in a Russian theater in Berlin for four years. Later she worked in Vologda, Russia, but she especially loved the theater of Amur, where she worked for 27 years.

Lucia Ganieva

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