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Ringl+Pit

RINGL+PIT

RINGL+PIT , German-born photography team consisting of Ellen Rosenberg Auerbach (1906–2004) and Grete Stern (1904–1999), who achieved fame as an avant-garde pair in the Weimar Republic in the 1930s and later had individual careers of distinction in the United States and Argentina.

Rosenberg, better known by her married name, Auerbach, was born into a liberal Jewish family in Karlsruhe, Germany. After high school, she decided to become an artist and studied sculpture for three years at an art school in Karlsruhe and, in 1928, at the Academy of Art in Stuttgart. While studying there, her uncle gave her a camera and she abandoned sculpture, primarily because she thought she might earn a living as a photographer. She sought out Walter Peterhans, a member of the Bauhaus design movement, in Berlin where he maintained a successful commercial studio, and asked to be his student. He agreed, and for these lessons she was joined by another private student, Stern. The young women quickly became friends. When Peterhans decided to close the studio, they took over the premises and operated as Ringl + Pit, a name that combined their childhood nicknames. Stern was Ringl and Rosenberg was Pit. The name had the advantage of being ambiguous in terms of gender and ethnicity. It was probably the first photographic business of its type founded by women. To have combined their surnames, Rosenberg said, would have "sounded too much like a firm of Jewish dressmakers."

At the time, the German advertising industry was booming and the team gained a reputation for innovative work. They also came to know–and photograph–leading cultural figures, such as Bertolt Brecht. Despite the commercial nature of their commissions, Ringl+Pit played with form and perspective to demonstrate the influence of Surrealism, as in their use in 1930 of a mannequin with a real hand to sell hair tonic. The firm was widely used by mainstream manufacturers to sell cigarettes and motor oil but in 1933, shortly after one of their still-life collages won first prize at an international photography exhibition in Brussels, they decided to leave Germany. Stern, who had a small inheritance, went to England and lent Auerbach money to go to Palestine. She was accompanied by her future husband, Walter Auerbach, a theater designer. They opened a children's portrait studio in Tel Aviv (a strong image of an Arab boy, snapped in the street in Jaffa, survives from 1934) and she took photographs for the Women's International Zionist Organization. Auerbach soon went to London and set up a studio but was unable to get a work permit. She then went to the United States and Stern to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1935. Relatively few examples of Ringl+Pit's work of the period have survived but they have become eagerly sought by museums and collectors. Politically, Walter Auerbach was an active leftist but his wife stayed out of politics, although she socialized with many left-wing artists. One of her more startling images shows Brecht at his typewriter with a light bulb sprouting from the back of his head. The Auerbachs, who had no children, divorced in 1945. Ringl+Pit were separated for ten years by World War ii. They never worked together again but they remained lifelong friends.

In the United States, Ellen Auerbach took a number of powerful images of children but she never recaptured her professional status. Her growing interest in children led her to become a therapist, working with learning-disabled children, a career she pursued from 1965 until 1986, when she was 80. The rediscovery of her work was helped in part by the publication of two books of photographs, Mexican Churches (1987) and Mexican Celebrations (1990), which she had originally taken on a long journey in 1955 with a fellow photographer, Eliot Porter, brother of the artist Fairfield Porter.

In Argentina, Stern brought the idea of modernist photography to the country and was an important influence on the development of photography there. She made a long series of photomontages such as "Niño Flor" (Flower Child) in 1948 and "Made in England" in 1950 to illustrate a number of articles about psychoanalysis and dreams. She was also a portraitist, taking pictures of Brecht and Jorge Luis Borges, as well as documenting Argentine cities and regions.

In 1996 a documentary about Ringl+Pit won a number of awards and was shown in Berlin, Tel Aviv, London, and New York and on public television in the United States. Stern died in Buenos Aires, Auerbach in New York.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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