On March 2, 1998, Suzanne Gloria Lyall walked home from her usual bus stop, on the way to her campus dorm room. That’s the last time anybody saw her.
Eighteen years later, she still hasn’t been found, in spite of the search efforts of police, her parents, and those enlisted by her parents, including a psychic who hovered her hands above old photos, hoping to form a connection. Although Suzanne’s parents, Mary and Doug Lyall, were able to channel their grief towards a good cause ― in 2001 they founded the Center for Hope, a community providing support and resources to the parents of missing children ― they never stopped searching for their daughter.
Their story of tenacity, and of a relentless search for traces of evidence, caught the attention of photographer Virginie Rebetez, whose previous work centered on the way missing and unidentified people are described and depicted in police reports.
“In all my photographic projects I am interested in the invisible, the meaning of identity, the traces we leave behind after death or an absence, in unfinished stories, in the materiality we, as humans, need for closure,” Rebetez said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “I can say, in a way, that I use photography to give consistence, materiality, to the invisible, to give a shape, a form to what is not there anymore.”
She’d hoped to tell the story of a single missing person, and the individuals whose lives are shaped by that absence. When she met Mary and Doug Lyall, she knew she wanted to photograph the materials and emotions surrounding their daughter’s case. The resulting series, which Rebetez is hoping to turn into a book titled Out of the Blue, is a patchwork of haunting images. In many of them, Suzanne is depicted, but her face is obscured, demonstrating visually that her disappearance is the cause for the strife shown in the rest of the collection’s photos, which consists of landscape shots, portraits, and a police composite of what Suzanne might look like today.
“I found the different use of the photographs of Suzanne by all the different people involved in the case quite interesting. Psychics used the portraits of her not for the representation of her but as an object they handled and touched in order to get a connection,” Rebetez said. “The more you read these files, the more your head is filled with stories, but the less you know. After 18 years, Suzanne’s case is still unresolved.”
The project, then, is a thoughtful commentary on the need we have for closure, which, unlike other forms of comfort, like hope or faith, often must come in the form of something physical. Rebetez hopes viewers will feel provoked by her meditation on loss, but more than anything she hopes the project will raise awareness for Suzanne’s story.
“She disappeared in a time lapse of five minutes,” Rebetez reflects, reiterating the mystery and tragedy of the case. “The distance between the bus stop to her university campus dorm.”