"Zapis socjologiczny" ("Sociological Record”) by Zofia Rydet (1911-1997) consists of thousands of black and white photographs. It isn’t impossible to choose a single iconic picture from this mass, nevertheless every critic, historian and viewer should find his or her own, unique frame.
Rydet took all of these photos during quick visits to strangers, without a tripod, therefore the images are often a little tilted and almost always drawn with sharp light of a flash. The photographs usually present older people in interiors of rural houses. At first this world seems distant and strange. The fact that the chicken shacks in the pictures aren’t from the darkness of the Middle Ages but from the fourth quarter of the 20th century is evidenced by the television sets that stand here and there. Sometimes next to a grandmother and a grandfather one may see amused little children that are interested in the unusual situation. The contemporary and even generational dimension of Rydet’s “Zapis socjologiczny”, which was created in the years 1978-1990, is additionally emphasized by the fact that the grandchildren and grand-grandchildren of the photographed hosts are now almost 40-year-olds.
Rydet began working on “Zapis socjologiczny” in the Podhale region. Later she extended the project to other regions of the country (Silesia, Kielecczyzna, Suwalszczyzna and the area around Kraków) and also foreign places (Rydet worked on “Zapis socjologiczny” amongst others during her journeys to France).
I’m not after any great “artistic meaning”, I just want to move people a little, I want to make them think” said Zofia Rydet in a conversation with Juliusz Garztecki, in which she also stated: One may show the beauty of an object that we pass by indifferently, but I’m against creating only trivial images and I’m against using refined techniques to cover up emptiness.
Even though “Zapis socjologiczny”, which was being created from the beginning of the 1990s, consists of simple non-artistic documentary photographs, the work acquired symbolic value over time. The author was nearly 70 years old when she began working on this project. The monumental scope of the enterprise may be compared to the work of such artists that were important to the history of the medium as the American Jacob Riis or Germany’s August Sander. The petite, slightly hunched photographer, who travelled through villages as well as small towns knocking from door to door and obsessively making records of material culture, ceremonies and dying customs created a work that has a descriptive value which equals that of Florian Znanieckis’s and William Thomas’ “Chłop polski” (“Polish Peasant”). “Zapis socjologiczny” consists of sub-collections that present houses, professions, women in thresholds, objects and decorations, landscapes and ceremonies. This work is gradually being edited and made available to the public, but critics and photography historians already consider “Zapis scojologiczny” fundamental to photography in Poland and abroad.
Czartoryska was the first to notice the value of Zofia Rydet’s photographs. The great art critic and long-standing curator of the Museum of Art in Łódź proposed the title for the series and supported the photographer’s work institutionally. Years later Rydet somewhat countered Czartoryska’s interpretational framework which accentuated the conceptual roots, when the photographer said: “This wasn’t a sociological record. This was an emotional, slightly sentimental, magical record”.
On one hand “Zapis socjologiczny” impresses with its consistency and breadth, on the other, when viewed a number of years after the work’s completion, Rydet’s creation seems to break apart into a sequence of smaller series and the individual motifs seem to play a bigger role in the ordering of the photographs than the precisely described criteria of recording (time, place, the names of the heroes) which were initially assumed by the author. Today this incoherency turns out to be ostensible, it gives authenticity to the challenge undertaken by Rydet.
This project is devoid of homogeneity and unbreakable rules. Rydet’s work is built from flaws, which is its great value. The flaws of “Zapis socjologiczny” comprise this work’s truth - wrote Wojech Nowicki.
Author: Adam Mazur, March 2014
Translated by: Marek Kępa
black and white negative 24x35mm