Object Lessons. Zofia Rydet’s Sociological Record

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In 1978, Zofia Rydet (1911–97) began work on a monumental project that would come to be known as her “Sociological Record”: photographing the people of Poland at their homes, she produced an extraordinary archive of around twenty thousand negatives. The images include faces, interiors, furnishings, and more. The undertaking consumed Rydet so completely that she was never able to give it final shape through a book or an art show.

Object Lessons, a new volume of essays inspired by an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, helps to dispel the myths that have formed around the project in recent years and introduces the photographer to a new global audience. The essays here contextualize and interpret “Sociological Record” from different perspectives, opening up the work to further inquiry as both an object of interpretation and a subject of theoretical interest. Rydet herself remained unresolved over the question of how to define her work, leaving the viewer to ponder whether her magnum opus is a piece of art or science. What does remain undisputed is that “Sociological Record” is a striking testimony of its time.

A fascinating celebration of Rydet’s work that is sure to spur on fresh debate about art as a social practice and a tool of knowledge, Object Lessons reminds us of photography’s incredible power to provide a visual way of thinking and a provocative method for archiving the world.

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