Tealia Ellis Ritter’s debut monograph lays bare the complexities of family life

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Birth, death, conflict, divorce and sexuality creep through the photobook’s pages, which are also awash with mundane markers of family life

Tealia Ellis Ritter’s late father, Oscar, entrusted the photographer with a fragile mechanical camera when she was just a child. “She posed her younger sister and made meaning out of childhood,” recounts American author and journalist Lisa Taddeo in an evocative text accompanying Ellis Ritter’s debut monograph, The Model Family, published by Loose Joints. An elegant publication replete with page upon page of black-and-white images of Ellis Ritter’s family. Those taken by the artist from her teenage years to the present day, and pre-existing family photographs — self-portraits of her father, for instance, discovered 14-years after his death. 

The book’s title suggests contrived family portraits — matching outfits and forced smiles. Instead, the images frame disparate details — a snake’s black sinuous silhouette against a cold, white floor; the puckered flesh of a turkey neck. And gentle portraits capture an anonymous cast of characters growing and changing. Their identities are unclear, save for Oscar who’s mentioned in the text and Ellis Ritter herself, leaving us to wonder who they are. Death, birth, conflict, divorce and sexuality creep through the pages, which are also awash with mundane markers of family life. Everything is beautiful regardless of the subject. As Taddeo writes: [Ellis Ritter] has a tremendous way of seeing, you see, and I am sure it has a lot to do with how [Oscar] trusted her with that breakable camera. That is a profound kind of love, and it lives in her, it glows behind her pretty eyes. She sees with love. She makes art out of even the most withered of things.” 

The Model Family is published by Loose Joints.