RAILWAY WORKERS' COLONY
It was the Railway Workers' Colony in the Studenci area of Maribor, the oldest workers' housing estate in Slovenia, that had caught the artist's eye for this project. Throughout its existence, two processes were combined there: to preserve the authenticity and to pursue a unique character.
Comprising forty multifamily homes, the workers' housing estate is of cultural-historical and ethnological value and a cultural heritage site. The construction began in 1863, and the estate was completed in 1874. In the late 19th century, up to 1,600 people would live in the colony. Each having its own garden, the houses are oriented in the East-West direction and aligned according to a regular raster. Originally, they had stone foundations and the ground floors are built of twice-burnt red bricks, while the upper storeys are plastered with grey paint and divided with sawtooth cornices. Initially, the colony was only open to workers of the Southern Railway workshops and their families. When being employed in the railway workshops was no longer a condition for dwelling in the colony, the composition of inhabitants as well as the colony appearance changed considerably. Until the end of World War I, the colony had been maintained by the workshops, which ensured the preservation of its authentic appearance and a particular affiliation among the inhabitants. The colony provided its inhabitants with everything they might need, including a kindergarten, a school, an emporium, baths, a library, which made it practically self-sufficient. The construction of workers' multifamily homes also triggered the first partial regulation plan for Maribor, according to which interventions in the area were adapted to the railway workshops. In 1989, an urban design plan was issued, protecting the colony as a cultural monument. A sample house was renovated. Later, the changed composition of inhabitants transformed the colony appearance. The affiliation was declining, and people started to shape their co-habitation with cultural heritage in their own ways, adapting the surroundings to their wishes.
150 years later, the original appearance of houses is mostly gone. It was this process of the colony pursuing its character that attracted the photographer Branimir Ritonja. People are different from each other, which is visible on the outside. People are not inclined to uniformity, as the authorities would have them, says Ritonja. The idea originating in 1979, his photography project to capture all houses of the colony was done in several stages and completed this year during the epidemic when time stood still, so to speak. A photograph has the ability to freeze time, according to the artist. The houses are captured to show their front and side. Particularly noticeable in the exhibited photographs is the attitude to the current living environment, which carries the story. Having been entirely neglected for a while, the attitude has recently been improving. The artist poses a question on respecting the past, our own and that of others. His photographs indicate what attitude people have towards the legacy of the past and how they live with it. The living environment has changed a great deal. The black-and-white photography technique emphasises the visual appearance of houses (windows, white frames, ornaments, etc.). This is a visual effect to make the observer focus their attention on the shape having been changed through time. Man personalises the surroundings, making it their own. As the environment adapts to human and vice-versa, we get what the photos personify. Manipulating the renovation to their advantage, inhabitants show their individual character. Variety, diversity, incompatibility and diverging material circumstances show in the houses being split among several owners who cannot reach an agreement on a uniform renovation.
Having been created in the artist's mind and on photographs for over 20 years, the project presents the world of suburbs or edges of the city. This rapidly changing world, a part of which, i.e. the Railway Workers' Colony, was captured on Ritonja's exhibited photographs, is not finalised. With its constant changes, it pushes the artist to continue following and recording it.
About the artist:
Branimir Ritonja was born on 23 February 1961 in Maribor, Slovenia, where he still lives and works. One of the most prominent contemporary photographers based in Maribor, Ritonja’s interests include photography, video, and film.
Ritonja took his first pictures in primary school when he got his first camera. Having developed his first roll of film in the darkroom and making his first black and white photograph as part of a photography club sparked his lifelong passion for photography. By the age of 17, he was already a published author. Ritonja graduated from the Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security and worked as a forensic inspector. In his work, he gained considerable experience in forensic photography. He retired from his job in 2009.
In 1980, Ritonja became a member of the Maribor Photo Club and went on to pursue his passion under the supervision of Ivan Dvoršak, one of the most prominent Slovenian photographers of the late 20th century. If his early photographs still show the influence of the ‘Maribor School’, Ritonja later moved away from this style. He soon started entering his work into competitions. His photographs have been shown in more than 50 solo and more than 600 group exhibitions, earning him more than 100 awards and accolades in Slovenia and internationally, and testifying to his skill and expertise in the art of photography. The prizes Ritonja has received include the 2012 Glazer Award, the 2016 SKD Golden Plaque, the 2019 JSKD Silver Plaque, a medal for photography at the 2017 Salon des Beaux Arts, Carrousel du Louvre, Paris, and a special award at the 8th Festival of Fine Arts in Kranj in 2019.
Ritonja has earned the titles of Artist and Master of photography. He has served as the artistic head of the Stolp Photo Gallery since 1996, and the President of the Maribor Photo Club, one of the most active cultural organisations in this city, since 2002. He has been a member of the Slovenian Association of Fine Arts Societies (ZDSLU) and the Maribor Fine Arts Society (DLUM) for 13 years.
Ritonja's award-winning photographs include Starec (Old Man) and Deklica z jabolkom (Girl with an Apple). In the late 1980s, he made the photography series Arhitektura (Architecture) and Portreti (Portraits). He continued working in analogue until the very turn of the century, using medium format since, and changing his style in, the early 1990s. In the mid-90s, he took an interest in graffiti and turned his camera towards people, becoming a well-known and popular portrait photographer who went on to produce a series of portraits of Maribor-based artists. Since the beginning of the century, Ritonja has worked in digital. He has expanded his knowledge of photography on study tours, a source of many of his photographs and series that have seen the light of day as photo books (Kaznilnica/Penitentiary, Maks/Max, Mesta/Cities, Kuba/Cuba, Maroko/Morocco, Auschwitz).
In addition to portraits, his body of work comprises landscapes, scenes from the everyday life, motifs associated with Jews and the Holocaust, as well as socially engaged photography, travel photography, experiments with various surfaces such as stone or wood, and inclusion of photography in spatial installations. Ritonja has tested a number of techniques such as photo-printmaking. His works often reflect the environment he finds himself in (Maribor’s courtyards, suburbs). With his photographs, Ritonja aims to encourage critical thinking, most notably with the series Kriv sem (I Am Guilty), Kaznilnica (Penitentiary), Obrazi (Faces), Portret (Portrait), etc.
Fotograf Branimir Ritonja: Naši umetniki pred mikrofonom (Our Artists in front of the Microphone), https://4d.rtvslo.si/arhiv/nasi-umetniki-pred-mikrofonom/174431726, 7 Sep 2020.
Dober večer: Branimir Ritonja (Good Evening), https://4d.rtvslo.si/arhiv/dober-vecer/174598097, 7 Sep 2020.
Branimir Ritonja: Pozitivne zgodbe (Positive stories), https://4d.rtvslo.si/arhiv/pozitivne-zgodbe/174430797, 8 Sep 2020.
Branimir Ritonja: Razkošje v glavi (Richness of Mind), https://4d.rtvslo.si/arhiv/razkosje-v-glavi/174354533, 8 Sep 2020.
Branimir Ritonja, https://www.mariborart.si/osebnost/-/article-display/branimir-ritonja, 28 Aug 2020.
Železničarska kolonija (The Railway Workers' Colony), https://www.mariborart.si/spomenik/-/article-display/zeleznicarska-kolonija, pridobljeno 28 Aug 2020.
Jerneja Ferlež, Stanovati v Mariboru: etnološki oris, published by Umetniški kabinet Primoža Premzla, Maribor 2009.
 The Railway Workers' Colony, https://www.mariborart.si/spomenik/-/article-display/zeleznicarska-kolonija, 28 Aug 2020.
 Branimir Ritonja, https://www.mariborart.si/osebnost/-/article-display/branimir-ritonja, 28 Aug 2020.