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Sociological Record (1978 – 1990)

As with many artists creating in the aftermath of the Second World War, the author of the Sociological Record (Polish: Zapis socjologiczny) arrived at photography along the path of the amateur: through the passionate embrace of the photographic craft, and through meetings with fellow enthusiasts and practitioners at which the prevailing zeitgeist was influenced and energized by a spirit of animated discussion and grassroots peer review. Perhaps this is why Zofia Rydet’s oeuvre isn’t hemmed in by boundaries; it was, after all, born out of an inner need to document and create. Inspiration trumped professional calculation from the beginning.

Rydet had already reached an advanced age—the concept for the Sociological Record came into focus when Rydet was 67—when she began to work on what would become her magnum opus: the Sociological Record, a sweepingly comprehensive photographic “portrait” of Polish domestic life that would come to span decades, regions, and even countries. And yet for all of its epic scope and panoramic comprehensiveness, the Record is comprised of portraits that often feel as intimate (and sometimes as endearingly awkward) as those carried within a locket worn around the neck, or else to be found stored in shoeboxes hibernating atop wardrobes and at the backs of closets.

Zofia Rydet at an exhibit of her Sociological Record, Opava, 1989. (Photograph: Janusz Moniatowicz)

Rydet’s first detailed notes concerning the Sociological Record date from 1978. The embryonic idea for the cycle can be traced back to the 1960s, although material from this earlier creative period, while adhering to similar criteria, was nonetheless considered to be separate from the cycle itself.

The cycle’s core—those images regarded as canonical—consists of portraits of inhabitants of towns and villages in different regions of Poland (primarily) as well as abroad. These photographs, though created over a period of nearly three decades, are linked by compositional consistency and a dedication to process. Portraits show us residents, photographed individually, as couples, or in family groups, often seated in front of a chosen wall within their home. Operating with a flash, Rydet would maintain the widest possible frame so as to simultaneously capture a cross-sectional view of the room in which a picture was being taken.

Rydet’s work on the Record, begun in earnest in the summer of 1978, would continue apace wherever she went: across Poland and down (which is to say up) into Podhale, the country’s southern highlands, as well as further afield with Record-related trips to France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, and New York. She carried out these field investigations while simultaneously overcoming her own encroaching physical limitations as her Record endeavoring continued through the 1980s and into the 1990s. Meanwhile, the Record would continue to grow, amassing layers and cross-hatched nuance as Rydet added subsets of photographs, divided into categories with titles such as “Landscapes and Ceremonies,” “Objects and Decorations,” “Professions,” and “Women on Doorsteps.”

At the time of Rydet’s death, in 1997, the Sociological Record had come to encompass some 16,000 negatives, many of which were never in the end to see the light of the darkroom during Rydet’s career. Prolifically active though she was, eventually there was simply not enough life left for work, not enough time left for the cycle to be “completed.”

And yet one facet of Rydet’s Sociological Record legacy is affirmation of the fact that some cycles need not be thought of in terms of completion. Not when the focus of Rydet’s inquisitive eye was a subject as compellingly open-ended and kaleidoscopic as the human condition itself. Even so, she charted its diurnal, domestic arc with care and dedication, one frame and livelong day at a time.

Selected exhibitions, publications, and distinctions related to the Sociological Record

[Please note that titles for exhibits that took place in Poland are listed below in the original Polish and punctuated accordingly. This is meant to facilitate further inquiries should you be interested in looking up specific exhibits whose titles might not have been originally translated into English. Bracketed English translations are at times provided, but note that they do not double as the official translations for these exhibit titles.]

X Gorzowskie Konfrontacje Fotograficzne, Regional Museum, Gorzów Wielkopolski (the first presentation of the Sociological Record)

Polish Photography 1839–1979, International Center of Photography, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Poszukiwania ’79, Galeria BWA, Bydgoszcz

Ogólnopolski Konkurs Fotograficzny “Rodzina Polska,” ZPAF, Warsaw (photography competition, with a thematic focus on “the Polish family,” at which Rydet is awarded the main prize)

Sztuka reportażu. Z historii fotografii polskiej [The Art of Reportage: From the History of Polish Photography], National Museum in Wrocław; Museum of Modern Art in Łódź

Fotografia polska 1939–1979 [Polish Photography 1939–1979], Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw; Museum of Modern Art in Łódź

The 1st National Review of Sociological Photography in Bielsko-Biała

Polish Photography 1900–1981, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Krzyż – uniwersum sztuki / Znak krzyża, Warsaw

Exhibition of Polish Art, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Nurt intelektualny w sztuce polskiej po II wojnie światowej [The Intellectual Current in Polish Art after World War II], BWA, Lublin

Polish Avant-Garde, Cultureel Centrum, Berchem/Antwerp, Belgium

XV Gorzowskie Konfrontacje Fotograficzne ’85, Gorzów Wielkopolski (at which Rydet is recognized with a lifetime achievement award, named for photographer Waldemar Kućko, for her artistic contribution to Polish photography; in recognition of her past and present participation within the Gorzowskie Konfrontacje Fotograficzne showcase; and, in particular, for her cycles of photographs dedicated to sociological examinations)

Zofia Rydet. Dom [Zofia Rydet: House], Galeria Nawa św. Krzysztofa, Duszpasterstwo Środowisk Twórczych, Kościół OO. Jezuitów, Łódź

Obecność i zapis [Presence and the Record], jubilee exhibition, ZPAF, Katowice (catalogue)

Fotografia polska – poszukiwania 1955–1984 / Polská fotografie, Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague

Fotografia [Photography], an exhibition on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of ZPAF, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (at which Rydet is awarded the “40 Years of ZPAF 1947–1987” medal for her contributions to the development of Polish photography)

Out of Eastern Europe: Private Photography, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge; The Baxter Gallery, Portland School of Art, Portland (Maine)

Modern Photography and Beyond: Photographs in the Collection of the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto

Publication of the album Obecność [Presence], published by Wydawnictwo OO. Bernardynów Calvarianum, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (1988), with text by Józefa Hennelowa

Aspects of Polish Photography: Zofia Rydet, Sociological Record; Maciej Plewiński, Wojciech Prażmowski, Stanisław Michalski, Galerie Picasso a Denain; exhibition organized by the Centre Régional de la Photographie, Nord Pas-de-Calais, Douchy-les-Mines, France

Zofia Rydet: Photography Festival in Opava, Kulturni středisko ZV ROH OSS Opava – Kylešovice

Fotoberichte aus Polen, Zofia Rydet, Anna Beata Bohdziewicz, Aspekte Galerie, Offene Akademie der Münchner Volkshochschule, Munich

Zofia Rydet: Photographic Exhibition, Kaunas and Vilnius, Lithuania

W 200 lat później. Fotografia: Marie-Pauele Negre »Francja rok 89«, Pierre Devin »Linia złamania«, Zofia Rydet »Douchy 1988 – Zapis socjologiczny«; Plakat: »Obraz praw człowieka i obywatela we współczesnym świecie« [200 Years Later: Photography, etc.], Galeria Sztuki Współczesnej BWA, Katowice

Zofia Rydet. Nieskończoność dalekich dróg. Zapis socjologiczny 1978–1990 [Zofia Rydet: The Infinity of Distant Roads: Sociological Record 1978–1990], FF Gallery, Łódzki Dom Kultury, Łódź

Zofia Rydet. Zapis socjologiczny. Douchy – Francja 1989 [Zofia Rydet: Sociological Record: Douchy – France 1989], Galeria Fotografii Łódzkiego Towarzystwa Fotograficznego, Łódź

3 Photographers: Zofia Rydet, Wojciech Prażmowski, Mino Svolik, Galerie Jacqueline Salmon, Paris

Zofia Rydet: Sociological Record, Douchy-les-Mines, France

More Than One Photography: Works since 1980 from the Collection, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Zofia Rydet 1911–1997. Fotografie [Zofia Rydet 1911–1997: Photographs], Museum of Art in Łódź; National Museum in Wrocław; Galeria Okręgu Śląskiego ZPAF, Galeria Pusta, Galeria ASP, and Galeria Sektor I – Górnośląskiego Centrum Kultury w Katowicach, Katowice; Galeria Ośrodka Promocji Kultury “Gaude Mater,” Częstochowa

Zapis socjologiczny 1978–1990 [Sociological Record 1978–1990], presented within the Krakow Photomonth Festival, Starmach Gallery, Krakow

Zofia Rydet. Zapis socjologiczny 1978–1990 [Zofia Rydet: Sociological Record 1978–1990], Czytelnia Sztuki, Gliwice

Zofia Rydet. Zapis socjologiczny 1978–1990 [Zofia Rydet: Sociological Record 1978–1990], Etnographic Museum in Zielona Góra, Ochla

Zofia Rydet. Zapis socjologiczny 1978–1990 [Zofia Rydet: Sociological Record 1978–1990], Zamojskie Towarzystwo Fotograficzne - Ratusz Galerie in Zamość

Papieże [Group exibition. "Popes"] MOCAK

Zofia Rydet. Zapis socjologiczny 1978–1990 [Zofia Rydet: Sociological Record 1978–1990], Gdańska Galeria Fotografii - National Muzeum in Gdańsk

[Group exibition. XII Baltic Triennial] Contemporary Art Centre, Wilnius, Lithuania

Zofia Rydet. Zapis socjologiczny 1978–1990 [Zofia Rydet: Sociological Record 1978–1990], Museum of Photography in Bydgoszcz

Zofia Rydet. Zapis 1978-1990 [Zofia Rydet: Record 1978–1990], Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw

Człowiek w nieskończoności zapisu [The man in the infinity Record] Muzeum of Cinematography in Łódź

[Group exibition. Textival Litteraturfestival] Göteborg, Szwecja

Zofia Rydet. Zapis socjologiczny 1978–1990 [Zofia Rydet: Sociological Record 1978–1990], Nadwiślański Park Etnograficzny in Wygiełzów

Zofia Rydet. Zapis socjologiczny 1978–1990 [Zofia Rydet: Sociological Record 1978–1990], Muzeum Śląska Opolskiego, Opolski Festiwal Fotografii OFF 2016

Zofia Rydet. Zapis socjologiczny 1978–1990 [Zofia Rydet: Sociological Record 1978–1990], Regional Museum in Mielec - Jadernówka

Zofia Rydet. Zapis 1978-1990 [Zofia Rydet: Répertoire 1978-1990] Jeu de Paume Galerie, Tours, France