Ritsch Sisters, Together Apart

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by POOL (here). Softcover (20.6 x 27.5 cm), 104 pages, with 60 black and white and color reproductions. Includes poems by the artists and an essay by Carmen Lael Hines. Design by Maximilian Mauracher. In an edition of 500 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Together Apart, a recent photobook by the photography duo of Anna and Maria Ritsch – also known as the “Ritsch Sisters” – explores the intimate bond of sisterhood. Both the title of the book and an ongoing series, Together Apart is a visually poetic meditation on notions of girlhood, life’s changes, and sisterly bonds.

The sisters grew up together in an Austrian city on the Swiss border, and today Anna Ritsch is based in New York City and Maria Ritsch lives in Vienna. Both women work individually, and they started their collaboration under their joint name in early 2020. Their focus is on photography and video that explores “the tensions between the physical, spatial, and emotional”, and through their parallel careers, they have established both the aesthetic and the practical intimacy unique to siblings aligned in a creative endeavor. In 2021, they published their first collaborative book titled The Act of Sitting, a visual exploration of individuals sitting in their homes in various locations worldwide (shot through a digital video conference), a reaction to the stasis of the COVID pandemic. And in 2022 they were selected as Foam Talents.

Together Apart is a softcover book printed on uncoated paper. The name of the duo appears right in the center of the plain cover, also dividing the words of the title, which are placed at the top and the bottom in all caps. The photographs vary in size and their placement on pages, creating a dynamic, and often surprising, visual flow. The book consists of two separate book blocks connected at the spine, allowing the disparate images to form a dialogue. Transforming the concept of duality into physical form, the construction reflects the juxtaposition of separation and togetherness. Short abstract poems by the artists are sprinkled throughout the book, and to underscore the profound connection the artists share as sisters, the book doesn’t specify which sister created which image.

The photographs were created in the artists’ respective locations, and then sequenced together through a virtual conversation between the sisters. As a result, the creative principles of dialogue and duality, rather than any singular subject matter, thread the book together. Together Apart explores moments of both connection and disconnection, blending portraits, tender body shots, still lifes, and landscapes. The first spread, with two books closed, shows a photograph of two young women in black bodysuits, their heads cropped out, leaning against each other, and the line on the left side reads “their gaze to be met”. From here, the viewer is invited to interact with the book, browsing one book at a time, or exploring them simultaneously, with the idea of igniting a sense of curiosity and playfulness.

As we navigate through the visual narrative of the book, there are quotidian images of garden chairs, cypress trees, hands holding eggs, peaches on a checkered tablecloth, sunlight bouncing off the surface of water, a glass of milk, etc. There are also various observations of feminine bodies, with faces typically left out of the frame. In one rotated picture, a nude woman sits on the edge of a white bathtub, holding a yellow object (perhaps a fruit?) between her legs. The poem on the left page reads “waiting for something / yellow #f5e40c // exhale”. In another image, a body of a young woman appears covered in yellow fishnet mesh as she holds her hand on her chest gently enclosed by the fabric.

Skin, another timeless symbol of connection, emerges as a recurring motif, representing the intersection between our inner selves and the outside world. In one close up shot, the arms of a couple are intertwined in a tender embrace. In another spread, a small image showing an opening in red fabric revealing bare legs and pubic hair is paired with a full page photograph of a young man in a white dress with an open back.

The combination of eroticism, fashion, and intimacy in the Ritsch’s photographs recalls the work of Talia Chetrit (reviewed here and here), who also fearlessly embraces the freedom of female sexuality. The collaborative aspect of the series also brings to mind an exhibition at the Met titled “Talking Pictures: Camera-Phone Conversations Between Artists” (reviewed here) which, as the title suggested, explored what happened when artists engaged in a visual dialogue. 

In this way, Together Apart invites us on a meditative journey, evoking memories and life transitions. The book is an intimate exploration of photographing together while being apart, and sharing those ideas back and forth. Through its thoughtful and delicate presentation, the combination of the mundane and the poetic becomes a lasting record of fleeting interconnection.

Collector’s POV: The Ritsch Sisters do not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artists via their website (linked in the sidebar).

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Read more about: Anna Ritsch/Maria Ritsch, POOL Publishing

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