“Sociological Record” (“Zapis socjologiczny” in Polish) is a monumental set 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 the author never managed to “complete” it before her death, in 1997. Material related to the cycle 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” cycle as a whole down to a level of very great and specific 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 series 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.
The first phase of digitization covers 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: Śląska and Dolny Śląsk); and Małopolska. Further afield, there is one set dedicated to France and a second set 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.
It’s also worth underlining the fact that the “Sociological Record” is not only a set of photographs depicting people within their domestic interiors (the compositional set-up for which Rydet’s work is perhaps most broadly known and understood). The cycle contains subsets as well, including: “Landscapes and Ceremonies,” “Objects and Decorations,” “Professions,” and “Women on Doorsteps.” The “Record” is, in addition to Rydet’s portraits of occupants framed by their living spaces, 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.
The structure of the public database is based on three categories of filters: regions, cycles, 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 series upon which the “Record” is built. And so regions include, for example, Poland’s former “województwa” (provinces/administrative districts); 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 guided by 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 Rydet’s own conception of the “Sociological Record” and its internal architecture.
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. The archive will be systematically updated as this verification process continues, with authenticated material and details added to the English-language database incrementally once they have been further translated from the original Polish.
Rydet’s original descriptions and titles for sets have been maintained throughout. Motifs are here represented by searchable keywords which describe compelling and repeating topics, themes, and elements selected and focused on during the process of the virtual archive’s assemblage.
The public database (no login information necessary) presents a selection of the most technically precise and representative pictures from the cycle (roughly one third of the entire collection). The archive is further comprised of outtakes and incidental captures; photographs that contain technical imperfections; and other photographs tangentially connected with the “Sociological Record.” Those interested in gaining access to the full database should contact us via e-mail.