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Editor’s Note

Sociological Record (Polish: Zapis socjologiczny) is a monumental cycle of photographs created by Zofia Rydet over the course of nearly thirty years, beginning in 1978. The cycle itself expanded and branched off in new directions over time, with the result being that its author never managed to “complete” it before her death, in 1997. Material related to the Record is currently undergoing a process of digitization, organization, and analysis that will ultimately make possible a comprehensive understanding of the project in its decades-spanning entirety and layered complexity, from a macro consideration of the Record as a whole down to a level of very great and granular detail shedding light upon Rydet’s artistic approach and nuts-and-bolts process over the years.

It should be noted that files created during the digitization process at times vary considerably from “final” prints executed in the darkroom by Rydet herself. Digitization efforts are being carried out with an eye toward research and analysis of the Record from the moment Rydet loaded film into her camera all the way through to her work in the darkroom, with intermediary steps either directly or indirectly accounted for. It is for this reason that the original dimensions of Rydet’s exposures have been preserved throughout this archive, with a wider frame intact and occasional technical imperfections preserved as well. The ordering of files within the archive correlates, additionally, to the order in which frames appeared along Rydet’s negative strips.

A central goal, therefore, of this virtual archive is to make it possible for one to trace the creation of segments of the Record from latency all the way through and into the darkroom. And to also include, when possible, primary source material that offers one a glimpse at how meetings between Rydet and those she photographed unfolded in a specific place and at a specific time. The virtual archive aims to preserve Rydet’s work, but also to provide a supplementary context for the cycle’s creation, in which the evolution of the author’s approach and investigatory instincts is of parallel importance to the work she left behind.

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The first phase of digitization, carried out and completed in 2013, covered those negatives made in the following regions of Poland: Podhale (which refers to the mountainous highlands of southern Poland, further divided by Rydet between photographs taken in the villages of Biały Dunajec and Chochołów); Silesia and Lower Silesia (Polish: Śląsk and Dolny Śląsk); and Małopolska. Further afield, there is one set dedicated to France and a second labeled “Miscellaneous Foreign” by Rydet, which includes photographs taken in Czechoslovakia, Germany, Lithuania, and New York. This step of the archival process concentrated on material comprising roughly half of the collected negatives currently under the care of the Zofia Rydet Foundation.

In 2014, a second, subsequent digitization phase introduced into the archive material covering Rydet’s formative, Record-influencing journey, in 1967, to the southern village of Zalipie, as well as excursions, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, to and along Poland’s northern, Pomeranian coastal region (Polish: Pomorze), which abuts the Baltic Sea; to the culturally and linguistically distinct region of Kaszuby, also in northern Poland; as well as photographs taken within the former Kielce, Lublin, Łódź, Poznań, Rzeszów, Suwałki, Szczecin, and Zamość voivodeships (Polish: województwa; provinces/administrative districts, the jurisdiction-defining borders of which have since been redrawn). With the addition of this supplementary batch of images, the archive now encompasses the full geographic and territorial range of Rydet’s explorations within Poland.

Notably, this update further includes the lesser-known and often overlooked “urban” segment of the Record, with photographs taken in the cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia, Gliwice, Kielce, Łódź, Sopot, and Szczecin, as well in Krakow and Warsaw, with images from these latter two cities having been divided into two separate sets. This urban Record consists primarily of portraits of artists (photographers, painters, sculptors) and individuals associated with various cities’ artistic and cultural milieux (writers, architects, conservators, etc.) photographed in their studios or apartments, with a particular focus on portraits of photographers, including those Rydet created of Jerzy Lewczyński, Adam Bujak, Natalia LL, Krystyna Łyczywek, Paweł Pierściński, Wojciech Prażmowski, Józef Robakowski, and Andrzej Różycki, among others.

Elsewhere within the augmented archive, the “pre-Record” series returns us to the cycle's germinal beginnings. Specific to this virtual database and curated by its archivists, it contains 103 medium-format documentary photographs taken between 1957 and 1977, the year before Rydet officially embarked upon what was to become known as the Sociological Record. These images chronicle various aspects of life in the Polish countryside: exterior and interior shots of rural homes; portraits of homeowners and their families; still lifes of possessions; and detail shots homing in on decorative accents and patterns. This, of course, should all sound very familiar, for these photographs do indeed exist, both thematically and in many cases formally, as an instructive precursor to the overarching opus to which Rydet would end up dedicating the ensuing decades. But here the viewer is able to glimpse Rydet not in the act of industriously implementing an etched-in-stone master plan and vision, but rather searching for and refining just what that vision would encompass, and, via fieldwork and a great deal of trial and error, attempting to pin down how she would technically capture all that she felt it was imperative for her to record, and therefore preserve, before it was too late.

Lastly, it’s also worth emphasizing the fact that the Sociological Record is not only a collection of photographs depicting people within their domestic interiors (the compositional set-up for which Rydet’s work is most broadly known and understood). The cycle contains subsets as well, including: “Landscapes and Ceremonies,” “Objects and Decorations,” “Professions,” and “Women on Doorsteps.” And so in addition to Rydet’s portraits of occupants framed by their living spaces, the Record is made up of photographs of houses captured from the outside; of architectural details; of women standing on their doorsteps; of people at work; records of celebrations and rituals; landscape photography; and still-life documentation of both practical and decorative objects and domestic motifs. The virtual archive is thus further divided between sets reflecting the many different (though overlapping) subjects and angles of interest Rydet would explore with her camera.

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The structure of the public database is based on three categories of filters: Regions, Series, and Motifs.

The definition of “region” is not specifically literal in a contemporaneous geographic sense, but is instead guided by the compass with which Rydet set about creating the many interconnected series upon which the Record is built. And so regions include, for example, Poland’s former voivodeships, and historical regions, both in Poland and abroad, including those whose contours were perhaps framed less by clearly delineated borders so much as a shared ethnographic heritage among inhabitants.

The resulting typologies are therefore not based on universal scientific categorizations but are rather derived from the author’s own artistic approach and impulses. There is a key by which to understand and approach the Record, but the key is Rydet’s own, rather than one adhering exclusively to a specific ethnographic or sociological index. The virtual archive aims to organize itself with Rydet’s personal key in mind. The structure of the archive is meant to reflect her idiosyncratic conception of the Sociological Record and its internal architecture.

Rydet’s descriptions and titles for series have been maintained throughout. Motifs are here represented by searchable keywords which highlight compelling and repeating topics, themes, and elements selected and focused on during the process of the virtual archive’s assemblage.

Rydet left behind personal notes that include information on the province in which a photograph was taken, village, house number, and the names of those she photographed. File descriptions throughout the virtual archive are supplemented by information gleaned from these notes. The documents themselves, of course, require authentication, a process which has involved the cross-checking of primary source material against the archives and recollections of Rydet’s family members, friends, and acquaintances, as well as via the tapping of a network of institutions, with which Rydet was and has been associated, that are in a position to help authenticate all of the above. In some cases, documents continue to be analyzed or traced back to their source; the ongoing nature of such efforts means that descriptions may be modified over time when necessary. The archive will be systematically updated as this verification process continues, with authenticated material and notations added to the English-language database incrementally once they have been further translated from the original Polish.

Lastly, the database's default preselection of photographs (which can be toggled on or off by checking or un-checking the box next to "active" in the photo archive's sidebar menu) presents a curated selection of the most technically precise and representative pictures from the cycle. The archive is further comprised of outtakes and incidental captures; photographs that contain technical imperfections; and other photographs tangentially connected with the Sociological Record and its formation.

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A note on copyright:

Zofia Rydet’s photographs, presented within this virtual database’s photo archive, have been made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Poland (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL) license. For more information please consult the Terms and Conditions PDF. Zofia Augustyńska-Martyniak is the copyright holder for the photographs of Zofia Rydet.

All other content contained on this site has been made available with the consent of the authors specified on a particular page. Use of this material requires the separate permission of these authors.