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The Woman Who Wanted to Photograph Every House in Poland

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Sociological Record, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Sociological Record, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

Zofia Rydet mentioned in one of her letters that taking photos for her is like vodka to an alcoholic,” curator Sebastian Cichocki says of the 20th century photographer, “It’s like an addiction, so she collects more and more and more and she’s never satisfied.”

Rydet, a native of what was then part of Poland and is now Ukraine, was obsessive about photography. She embarked on what would become her Sociological Record in 1978, when she was 67 years old and continued it until she was no longer able to travel with her camera.

A self-taught photographer, Rydet rarely paused for long enough to make prints from her negatives. She passed away in 1997 and is estimated to have printed approximately one to two percent of her pictures.

Cichocki and Karol Hordziej of the Foundation for Visual Arts in Krakow have pulled together 300 prints from Rydet’s archive of more than 20,000 for the exhibition Sofia Rydet: Record, 1978-1990 at Jeu de Paume. The photographer left behind meticulous notes and letters, providing a rough guide for the printing of the images.

For the purposes of the exhibition, the prints have been divided into three sub-series within the decades-long project. The first is Sociological Record, an extensive catalog of people throughout Poland—and sometimes Polish people living abroad—photographed within their households.

The second is Professions, for which the artist stopped in on people at work. She was particularly drawn to smaller shops in the countryside or businesses and services in decline, and for this reason, this cycle is sometimes called Disappearing Professions.

The third grouping— Women on Doorsteps— is exactly what it sounds like. She traveled the countryside, stopped over in towns and villages, and asked the “matrons” of the houses to step outside.

The series is photographed much like Professions and Sociological Record in that she uses a wide-angle lens and a flash; she positions her subjects in very much the same way, typically backed up against a wall. It’s unique because of its focus on women and the choice to position them in between the private and public spheres.

In digitizing the negatives for the exhibition, it became clear that what Rydet was doing could not be classified entirely as straight photojournalism or documentary work. She did occasionally rearrange items within her subjects’ homes. She told them to act natural, but she also staged some of their surroundings.

In some cases, she returned once more to houses she’d photographed previous, sometimes more than ten years after the original visit. Rydet was intrigued by the connections between a person’s psychology, identity, and belongings, but she was also interested in mapping these things over a very specific period of time.

Rydet never did get to complete her Sociological Record. Some of the later photographs she made with color film, and she did express an interest in shooting more, but the cost was too high.

Her ambition was to photograph every house in Poland, and when it was all said and done, she did more than anyone could have reasonably expected, taking pictures in more than 100 different towns and villages in Poland alone.

Sofia Rydet: Record, 1978-1990 is on view at Jeu de Paume at the Château de Tours until May 17, 2017. Details here.

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Sociological Record, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Sociological Record, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Sociological Record, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Sociological Record, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Sociological Record, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Sociological Record, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Sociological Record, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Women on Doorsteps, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Women on Doorsteps, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Women on Doorsteps, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Professions, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

© Zofia Rydet, from the series Professions, Courtesy Foundation Zofia Rydet

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