Skip to content

Half Life by Tealia Ellis Ritter

After a brief preface about the construction of a transcontinental highway, an image of a blast demolition—a big bang and by that blast—begins Half Life by Tealia Ellis Ritter. The book is divided into four sections, the beginning of each marked by a full bleed black and white image of dark water—murky like the uncertain settling of matter after a large explosion.

In the first section emerges a young girl followed by two photographs of two houses. One is a playhouse with the roof partially missing, the other adorned by two hearts affixed to siding just below the roof peak. The two houses mark two halves of a life—one broken by loss and one intact by love. The section ends with another portrait of the same young girl returned to and standing shin deep in water. Five years have passed between the two portraits.

In one image of the second section is a night stand on the far left of the frame and a small table on the far right. Each are adorned with lamps, the night stand a framed picture, the table a phone and a plush toy–Bumble the abominable snow monster, an iteration of the legendary Himalayan creature the yeti whose history is of uncertain origins. The space between the two pieces of furniture is awkward. The two pieces of furniture do not sit far enough apart that it feels like intentional design but are close enough together as though another piece of furniture was once there. Read the plate titles in the index and you learn the title of the image, The room Oscar died in after the bed was removed, 2004 fills that space. Looking back through a second time with plate titles does give some specificity to the images but leaves enough mystery to make a second look worthwhile. The image following The room Oscar died in after the bed was removed, 2004, of a small coffee mug with plastic inside held up in someone’s hand, is titled Fearless leader, holding the remainder of Oscar’s ashes, 2015. Eleven years separate these two images and as many things that could have transpired during that span of time so too numerous are the questions upon viewing the two images in sequence. An image earlier in the section of the girl we see throughout Half Life and a man older than her is titled, Crystal and Oscar, 1999.

Subsequent sections follow family after the death of Oscar. Relationships like vines creep up lattice. Children are born as the quarry dug for the transcontinental highway grows. If a blast began all that transpires throughout the approximate 25 years that make up Half Life, then the photographs depict uncertain forced dispersing and settling of matter in its wake. Coffee mugs hold loved one’s ashes as though caught when the dust cloud settled, divorce, paintings, a butterfly preserved under a glass dome, and other artifacts account for the displacement and resettling of rock, family, and time. The blast, the dark and uncertain void of the murky water, a fruit tree, shed snake skin, and unashamed nudity alludes to the creation story. If there is a lens through which a narrative is made, it is not the camera’s but rather, Crystal—the young girl we see at the beginning emerging from the water. If anything is made certain throughout Half Life it is that she is the fixed figure, conditional to the story like Eve in the Garden of Eden. The book ends with a portrait of Crystal at the age of 31 embracing herself against a white wall, removed from everything else. Once more the image following closes the same as it began after the blast. Half Life returns to the dark murky water of uncertainty.