Zofia Rydet

Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland

zfr_03_057_03-cmyk.jpg

Zofia Rydet, from the series ‘Sociological Record’, 1978–90, photographs

Zofia Rydet, from the series ‘Sociological Record’, 1978–90, photographs

Discussions around photography have a habit of falling into generalization and here I find myself stumbling into it, too. There are some photographs that insist we examine them more closely: not only the image itself but also the way in which it came to be. From 1978 until her death in 1997, Zofia Rydet was devoted to an expansive photographic project called ‘Sociological Record’. Beginning it at the age of 67, she visited and worked in America, France, Germany and Lithuania, but travelled predominantly within her native Poland, by bus and on foot, to villages and towns, photographing people and their possessions. Her subjects were often poor, many abjectly so, but the images do not make a spectacle of poverty, nor do they promote pity or patronize by making misery heroic. ‘Sociological Record’ comprises some 20,000 pictures. Most are black and white; many remain undeveloped. To see a selection of these photographs in ‘Zofia Rydet. Record, 1978–90’ (which has been carefully curated based on Rydet’s own unrealized plans for an exhibition) is to step not only into the homes of hundreds of strangers, but also into the artist’s eccentric and complex taxonomy.

Each photograph in ‘Sociological Record’ belongs to a cycle and, because some of these cycles lasted for decades whilst others were abandoned, one gets the sense that Rydet’s taxonomic scheme was as elastic as it was obsessive, as though what was photographed could, at any moment, disrupt or determine the rules. Apart from her portraits of children, men, women, couples, families and the elderly amidst their belongings, included here are selections from various sub-categories, such as ‘Women on Doorsteps’, ‘Disappearing Professions’, ‘Artists’ Apartments’, ‘The Myth of Photography’ and ‘Presence’ (photographs, found in homes, of Pope Paul II). Often these sub-categories speak to each other. Take, for instance, ‘Windows’, photographed from inside different rural huts. In almost every image, a table is positioned under a window and on it is the stuff of daily life: bread, mugs, bowls, plants, a clock or radio, the occasional newspaper. Seen next to ‘TV Sets’ – images showing a television (usually decorated with an array of trinkets) as the focus of a room – it becomes possible to trace Rydet’s interest in how private space and the habits therein are continually redefined by the outside, and then, in turn, how the outside comes to be remade inside. The remarkable thing about these images is that history looks like what it is: a mess of details. In each room, we see the jumbled personalization of religion, communism, technology. In some photographs, shifts in domestic life are explicit: the television sits on the table, where those common objects might have once been, obstructing the window completely.

inline_zr_02_023_17-cmyk.jpg

Zofia Rydet, from the series ‘Sociological Record’, 1978–90, photographs

Zofia Rydet, from the series ‘Sociological Record’, 1978–90, photographs

Rydet almost always photographed rooms and people straight on, with a wide-angle lens and flash. Consequently, her pictures have an unfussy, pragmatic quality, without being monotonous. On the three occasions that I visited the exhibition, I noticed people inspecting the images as though there was something in them to find or figure out. Perhaps because there are too many idiosyncratic domestic flourishes in the photos simply to let your eyes pass over them. Often an interior is nudged into the surreal or the comedic by a single thing: a couple sitting on either side of a doll, which has been propped against a chair to face the camera; a grubby stuffed toy panda looking over the shoulder of a grubby man, both with matter-of-fact expressions; an old woman, seated and wearing a headscarf, lovingly watched over by a poster of Donna Summer.

Unlike, say, Eugène Atget’s unpeopled ‘Intérieurs Parisiens’ from the early 20th century, Rydet’s project (which deserves similar renown) became as much about the person as about their home. Despite the project’s ambitious scope, the subjects retain their individuality. Rydet believed that our possessions – and the way we arrange them – reveal an inner life that we can’t always articulate. For this reason, photographs of intellectuals always disappointed her, since they ‘can’t decorate their houses as they please’. For Rydet, it seems, there was an original beauty (and expression) in spaces that had not been overworked; interiors constructed from whatever one has to hand. In other words, a room with its own rules.

Issue 176

First published in Issue 176

Jan – Feb 2016

Most Read

In further news: white supremacist vandals attack Rothko Chapel; Israeli minister bans art produced in solidarity with...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
The US writer, who died last week, brought a quality of inestimable importance to the modern novel: a mind that was...
The $21M painting was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction
Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018