Zofia Rydet was born in 1911 in the city of Stanisławów which, although currently Ukrainian, was situated within the territory of Poland at the time when Zofia was young. It is believed that her deep fascination with photography developed thanks to her older brother Tadeusz, who used to be absorbed with this form of art. The 1950s mark the pinnacle of the artist’s artistic activity. At that time she used to live in Silesia. She was the member of the Photographic Society in Gliwice and the Association of Polish Art Photographers. In the 1970s she lectured on photography at the Silesian University of Technology. She is the author of the following photo series: “Little Man” [Mały człowiek], “Time of Passing” [Czas przemijania], “World of Emotions and Imagination” [Świat uczuć i wyobraźni], “Sociological Record” [Zapis socjologiczny], “Endlessly Distant Roads”, [Nieskończoność dalekich dróg], “Marks” [Ślady] and “Silesian Suite” [Suita śląska]. She died in 1997. In 2011 Zofia Rydet Foundation was established, which currently archives and researches her artistic works. Her works are in demand and are presented during numerous exhibitions in Poland and abroad. They were presented for example at Paris Photo 2011 art fair and at PhotoIreland Festival in Dublin.
The “Little Man” series focuses on children. It was the first of the artist’s major photo series. In the photographs we can see the faces of Polish, Albanian, Belarusian, Yugoslavian or Egyptian children. In contrast, the theme of “Time of Passing” is old age and loneliness, which is often an integral part of this phase of life.
The series entitled “World of Emotions and Imagination” consists of 15 series of photomontages which depict threats that a human being needs to face during his lifetime. In these works the author lays emphasis on symbolic content, which profoundly influences the audience’s emotions. In 1979, this series was published in the form of a photobook entitled “Zofia Rydet’s World of Imagination”.
“Sociological Record” is a monumental series, works on which Zofia Rydet started in 1978 and continued practically until the end of her life. Therefore, we need to discuss this series in greater detail. When the author started working on it she was 67 years of age. The series consists of several thousands photographs which present inhabitants of towns and villages, predominantly the Polish ones. These people have been depicted in their everyday surroundings, which very often tell much more about the life of a given person that the person in question would want to share with us. The very first photos were taken in Podhale region, afterwards the author started to document life in other parts of Poland: Silesia, Kielce region, Suwałki region, or the towns and villages near Kraków and Gdańsk. As time passed, the artist included places from abroad in her photo series. The photographs do not emanate artistry. Other than that, they are documentary photographs. The author intended to immortalize things which would soon pass away – the traditional picture of countryside with its inhabitants. As she used to say herself, she did it to “move people a little bit, make them contemplate things”. This series is the reason why Zofia Rydet is often compared with August Sander – the German photographer who managed to present a panorama of the German society from the beginning of the 20th century. Similarly, his photos present people in their usual surroundings or at work. However, the photos do not seem natural due to the fact that they are posed and the people in the photos often face the camera.
“Endlessly Distant Roads” is one of the conceptual series. The author uses a route as a way to depict life in a metaphorical manner. The whole concept focuses on the idea that everyone starts following an unfamiliar route at the moment he or she is born and will need to follow it further. There are merely two certain points on this route – the beginning, i.e. one’s birth and finish which equals the moment of death.
“Traces” should be regarded the series with personal message. It is composed of a series of photomontages with the multiplied image of the artist in different stages of her life composed into them. Sometimes the artist’s image is juxtaposed with other figures. The works are focused on the theme of passing and the things which remain after our death – our mere image depicted in the photos.
The last of the big projects of Zofia Rydet is “Silesian Suite”. It consists of a series of collages and photomontages composed of the artist’s earlier pictures with added ribbons and artificial flowers.
Although some of the photos refer to abstract art concepts, i.e. surrealism, a different tendency seems much more crucial when it comes to the artist’s work. This tendency entails simplicity of style, naturalness and directness. The characteristic feature of Zofia Rydet’s works are their topics which focus entirely on ordinary people and their life.
The artist’s works are recognized not only in Poland, but also abroad. It is enough to say that her works form a part of collections of such prominent institutions as: Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto or Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
Written by Anna Dziuba
Translated by Joanna Pietrak
Edited by Maggie Kuzan