With over 140 images by an icon of Polish photography, Zofia Rydet, a cutting-edge graphic design by Wojciech Zamecznik, and meaningful quotes from the writings of Janusz Korczak, Little Man is a unique volume. Published by Arkady in 1965, the art book still makes the most delightful impression with both its photographs and its form, an original approach to the child theme and the charm of rotogravure print.
Though part of a wider global trend of photography art book publications, Little Man came through as a unique phenomenon in People’s Poland, matched by no other. While photographers’ art books, including classic titles such as Robert Frank’s Americains (1958), Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment (19562) or Robert Doisneau’s Les parisiens tels qu ‘ils sont (1952), had been on the market worldwide since the 1950s, forming the identity of humanist photography, Poland only had Edward Hartwig’s Photographics (1958), a book that, though visually attractive, presented a completely different approach to photography. The popularity of humanist reportage photography started to grow in Poland with the 1956 post-Stalin liberalization and reached its peak at the turn of the 1950s/1960s. When in 1961 Rydet for the first time showed the Little Man images in a per-problem arrangement, they must have had a profoundly moving effect on the viewers, hearkening back to Edward Steichen’s cult exhibit, The Family of Man, shown two years prior.
Created between the years 1952-1963, Little Man was the first major photographic project by Rydet, who took up photography in her mid-40s. The child theme, besides those of motherhood and old age, was of special significance to the artist, who had no children herself. The photographs were taken in Poland and during Rydet’s numerous foreign trips to Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Lebanon and the Czech Republic. What is a unique value of this work is that Rydet succeeds in looking at childhood without stereotypes. Just like Janusz Korczak, a pre-war advocate of children’s rights, Poland’s most outstanding pedagogue and an ardent humanist, Rydet saw the child as an autonomous subject whose life is as complex as those of grown-ups, an outlook reflected in the Korczak quotes woven into the book.
The significance of Little Man for Rydet is attested to by a fragment of her letter to the editor of the Polska monthly, dated 29 September 1965:
I’m not sure if I’ve really managed to speak up a bit for the little man. I’m afraid that the general public will simply view the book as it views all the other art books, be them better or worse, judging the photographs as good or bad but failing to make a moment’s reflection or to read Korczak’s beautiful texts. If that happens, it will be my failure, because I wanted for the contents to speak, forcing the viewer to reflect not on the image but on the problem.
The Little Man re-edition reproduces the original as faithfully as possible with today’s printing materials and technologies. The scans have been made from original prints made available by the Zofia Rydet Foundation which keeps the artist’s archive.