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Foreign documentations (1950-1978)

A collection of photographs by Zofia Rydet, under the joint title Documentations 1950–1978, covers the earliest part of the artist’s output, consisting of over thirty thousand photographs taken in Poland and abroad, only some of which exist as prints. The whole collection is preserved as negatives. From the beginning of her artistic career, the main motif of Rydet’s photography was man at various stages of life and in different situations.

In its thematic and geographical diversity, the material in Documentations forms a picture of the reality of Communist Poland: picturesque rural poverty and tradition, the lifestyle and fashions of socialist cities, the glitz of anniversary parades. At the same time, we can observe how the artist’s sensitivity and photographic skills developed, and get to know the processes behind the creation of such cycles as Little Man, The Passage of Time, The World of Feelings and Imagination, Infinity of Distant Roads, and finally Sociological Record.

The second subject of the Documentations, strongly represented, is landscape and nature. Zofia Rydet loved space, fields and meadows, and documented them in all seasons. She took hundreds of photos in forests and parks, and she consistently portrayed single trees. From the very beginning, the artist photographed certain visual motifs and segregated them in envelopes, e.g. clouds, trees, roots, roads, fences, walls, textures, structures, mirrors, human couples, e.g. a child and an elderly person (the envelope labelled CONTRASTS), etc. She drew elements from such collections for her later collages.

As part of grants from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in 2016-2020, the Zofia Rydet Foundation made available online over 17,000 scanned negatives of photographs taken in Poland (Podhale, Beskidy, Orawa, Pieniny, Spisz, Sądecczyzna, Silesia, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Masuria) and abroad (former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the countries of former Yugoslavia, that is Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon, Egypt and Libya).

In 2020, the rest of the foreign photos were developed, mainly those made in Western European countries (Germany, Spain, Italy, France).

The foreign photographs show a fascinating image of the world divided by the “Iron Curtain”. On the one hand, there is a wealth of exotic elements captured by the artist in south-eastern Europe, the Balkans and Arab countries: photographs based on careful observation of the people she encounters on the way, captured in front of houses, in markets, streets and nooks and crannies of the many small towns and cities visited by the artist. On the other hand, we see photographs from the countries of Western and South-Western Europe - a radically different world.

In the epoch from which these photographs come from, Poland was stagnant, with a slowdown in economic development, inertia of the authorities and an increase in bureaucracy. The drab Polish reality and the increasing gap between Poland and the West have an extremely depressing effect on the sensitive Artist, as we know from the archival correspondence. Zofia Rydet struggles against the system every year in order to be able to go abroad for inspiration. The pretext for these trips are museums and monuments, but as always in her work she is most interested in people, especially young people, although there is also a theme of both childhood and old age, but it is not a childhood plunged into poverty or a sad old age.

When visiting the West, Zofia Rydet has the opportunity to observe a different quality of life, a much higher level of economic prosperity. She also witnesses the great cultural changes of the “crazy 1960s”. The youth present in the photographs, despite the black-and-white film, is colourful and laughing, surrounded by music. They wear fancy hairstyles and hippie outfits. The casual lifestyle and multiculturalism is evident in various types of facial features and all skin tones.
The West captured on film by Zofia Rydet is also modern architecture, the underground, and a different city aesthetics: eye-catching signs, advertisements, billboards, and neon signs. The photographer is also fascinated by fashionable shops, attractive - unattainable in Poland at that time - goods in shop windows and luxury cars in the background. She also documents flea markets, street artists, tourists and crowded cafés. Many of these elements can be found later in the collages from The World of Feelings and Imagination series.

Świat uczuć i wyobraźni.