Food, Nature and Nudes: Two Sisters Collaborate on an Erotic Photo Book

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Together Apart by the Ritsch Sisters
Yellow© Ritsch Sisters

Created by artist duo Anna and Maria Ritsch, the new book Together Apart is a meditation on girlhood, sisterly bonds and life’s transitions

“It’s in between I guess / elusive / I am.” So reads a short poem in Together Apart, a new photo book from artist duo the Ritsch Sisters. “Elusive” is an apt word. Contemplating ideas of distance and closeness, change and sameness, friction and alignment, the publication presents a delicate ebb and flow of disjointed image and text: freshly imprinted flesh (imprinted with what? Exactly) or an egg seemingly on the cusp of being dropped. These are moments of tension that invite the viewer to consider things that may have happened, or may still happen. But nothing is certain.

The Ritsch Sisters are made up of Anna and Maria, who grew up together in an Austrian city on the Swiss border. Today, Anna lives in New York while Maria lives in Vienna – and they decided to collaborate both in spite and because of this. In fact, Anna says Together Apart was born “out of the necessity to find a form of methodology, practice, and common language for our work while living on separate continents.” What threads the book together is not any singular subject matter, but creative principles of dialogue and duality.

“Growing up together and having this deep understanding of the way one another creates, in some ways we have a very in-tune dynamic and common vision,” Anna continues, ”and yet we also have our own strong individual personalities.” So what kind of visual conversations, they wondered, would arise from this emotional connection coupled with spatial distance? How might the work speak to the history they share together, and the ways they are growing and shifting in the present?

Drawing from digital archives created in their respective locations, the siblings would virtually discuss and play around with how different pieces could be sequenced together. With images created separately, and subsequently placed into a context of togetherness in this way, intentional individual authorship takes a back seat. It means “the work can evolve into something new, perhaps something beyond us,” Maria explains. “The images, over time, can create new dialogues. Photographs can be added, others can be deleted … [The] context is allowed to change as we change.”

As the work in Together Apart unravels, the viewer might pick up on familiar notions of girlhood, sisterly bonds, and life’s transitions. Feminine bodies – a recurring motif – stand side by side, or sit hunched in isolation. Somewhere, plaited blonde hair falls down a glinting bare back; elsewhere, a head is about to be shaved. With often faceless subjects, it’s almost as though these vignettes could be our own memories – except it’s more like the uncanny experience of trying to remember a dream. Like a memory that is at once right there and nonexistent; a kind of visceral knowing coupled with logical question marks.

“It’s interesting to us how multiple people can look at the same image, or read the same phrase, and will give it a completely unique association,” Anna says. “We don’t want to tell people what to think or give definitive meanings to our work,” echoes Maria. “We want to challenge the viewer to be present and actively participate.” 

The book’s text is designed to egg on ambiguity, too. Peppered throughout are abstract poems: “Entangled in the stories we’ve been told / listening for lost sounds / quietly / She left her Story.” Or elsewhere, “Meditating in sea-salt / there is you / two muffins on a plate / screenshot of private conversations.” Not necessarily displayed next to the photographs to which they pertain, it’s up to the viewer to form their own connections between these poems and the book’s visual narrative. In Anna’s words, “There is no right or wrong here.”

Together Apart by Anna and Maria Ritsch is published by Pool Publishing and is out now.