Out of the blue, by Virginie Rebetez, the proof by absence

Viriginie Rebetez is a Swiss photographer whose concerns revolve around the invisible, the trace, the absence, the death, but above all the space that this absence creates. A possible, immaterial world which she seeks to qualify with her own representation.

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In 2014, Virginie was in Residence in New York. Looking for a topic to work on, she searched for unresolved missing people cases and was aware of the story of Suzanne Lyall, a nineteen year old girl who disappeared in Albany (New-York), 16 years before in March 1998. Virginie will spend two years working on the « case », not to solve it, but to reinterpret it !


For her work, Virginie Rebetez got access to the complete family archive, photographs, objects, correpondance (mails, letters…) between the family, the police officers and the psychics who offered their help to solve the case. The book opens with a series of aerial views from the first days research with an helicopter. Then, we discover the backside of a photo, not knowing what the photo shows, dated June 1994. Suzanne tells about her : « Well, this is me ! … Love always ». Probably more than with a physical view of her, it seems that we start to know Suzanne. The connection is created and we are, now, ready to follow Virginie in her quest ; the quest of an immaterial presence, the resilient memory which try to fullfil a loss !


All along the book, we will never see Suzanne’s face. We will only confront her traces : cut off photos, notes, Suzanne’s belongings or known places. The book is made of several series. Some photographs have been shot on location around Albany. We discover several places all located upstate NY where she could have gone before or after her disapearance. Knowing that, those locations appear unsettling, we explore them, looking for a trace, a sign… We discover Suzanne’s bedroom, which remained untouched since her missing. And portraits of Suzanne’s parents, Mary and Doug Lyall, with an ineffaceable sadness in their eyes (or maybe this is just our own projection). Compiling the documentation, Virginie Rebetez also build a wall of documents, in the spirit of a police investigation to rephotograph the rearranged pieces, giving us clues and fragments of Suzanne’s previous life, even if it remains an unfinished portrait.


The missing of a child can be considered with two aspects, the first one is factual, and this is the one that outcrop through the photogaphic part of the book. Photographs tell facts in a raw manner, we can add our own interpretation and its sense is our own adding value. The second aspect is the moral distress associated to the loss of a child. This is something really hard to explain and to transmit to someone who have not experienced the loss. This is what we are confronted in the second part of the book, with the pink pages. Here are shown some various letters, emails, drawings resulted from exchange with police officers or psychics who offered their help to the family. And that is the tragedy which is depicted, when reading assertions about Jupiter opposite Neptune, or Uranus square Saturn, considering this could be of any help ! Or those maps with some incredible precise GPS localization. Every new attempt to locate Suzanne was a new form of hope for Mary and Doug !

The combination, in a book form, of those two apsects reinterprets the space created by the absence of Suzanne. Definitely not in the same way than experienced by the parents, but as our own experience of the missing, which is emphasized by the addition of a poster which comes with one of three different images. These images were made by a professional forensic artist who created “age-progressed composites” depicting the possible appearance of Suzanne at the age of 38. This photograph will be the only complete image of Suzanne’s face seen in the book, which is highly perturbing, because of the unreality of the portrait : this is not Suzanne and it probably never will be.


Despite the accumulation of documents and/or evidences, the puzzle remains unsolved and the only certainty we have at the end the book is the reality of absence. But in a way, what is absence ? The book brings less answers than it opens new questions. The space that Virginie Rebetez was trying to explore is maybe, what we call souvenirs, an immaterial part of our own personality, something located in the unconscious, and very personal.

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Published by Meta Books in 2016. Hardcover, 144 pages, 57 color photographs, with a booklet and a poster. Essays by Frédérique Destribats, Elisa Rusca, and Simon Karlstetter. 700 copies.
More info : http://virginierebetez.com/projects/out-of-the-blue/
Want to buy the book : https://tictail.com/s/metabooks/virginie-rebetez-out-of-the-blue

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