While walking her dog, Suzanne Metzel began to notice that sheds and garages don’t always serve their intended purpose. The 66-year-old artist and founding member of Perspective Gallery in Evanston became fascinated with people’s tendency to hoard items in these spaces and spent three years photographing them. From December 7 to 28, her solo exhibition Inside will display the results of that project at Perspective. Here, Metzel discusses honing the focus of these images, her appreciation for historic architecture, and personal items she’s refusing to discard.
What inspired these photographs?
I’m reaching a point in life when I have a house full of stuff and I’m starting to purge. These objects become an integral part of our life and also the lives of those who go before us. It’s sort of like a step toward the end of life: You get rid of your stuff because you no longer need it and ultimately won’t. I thought these images served as a metaphor for our complicated relationship with stuff.
You’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with alternative ways of creating images, including photopolymer gravures [etching an image onto a light-sensitive metal plate, which can then be transferred to paper]. Why did you decide to use this method for this project?
A lot of these structures are not the most attractive garages. I was going into different neighborhoods and generally searching out ones that you could sense had a bit of history to them — maybe the garages were smaller than your typical one but had some interesting character to them. I did etching and printmaking many years ago, so I was happy to marry photography and printmaking together. Once we switched from darkroom photography to digital photography, you sit around the computer; it’s not very hands-on, and it can be kind of mind-numbing. This process really requires you to slow down and create one image at a time. I live in a 100-year-old home, so I appreciate historical buildings. The interesting structures and textures translate well in this particular process.
What did you take away from your experience creating the exhibit?
It’s not just all of this stuff we accumulate, it’s good and bad reflections of who we are. There are different kinds of stuff — there’s the junk we accumulate that we’re just too lazy to get rid of, then there’s your child’s gymnastics medals. It represents something that was in your life, but what do you do with remnants of it? It’s like letting go of your life, which seems kind of heavy to me. I didn’t think I was going to come out feeling like that when I went into it.
How do you feel when you purge your own items?
I like purging all the stupid junk I’ve bought. But I do like reminiscing about the stuff that’s harder to let go. During my first purge, I had oil portraits of my great-great-great-grandfather and his father-in-law — I didn’t know what to do with something like that. I called up the Ripon Historical Society in Wisconsin, and said, Do you want these? My great-grandfather had been a mayor of Ripon and had been in the Civil War, in the Wisconsin regiment, so he had some local celebrity.
I currently have some love letters from my great-grandparents. They carried on an eight-year long distance romance. They did get married, but sadly, my grandmother died at 40 of breast cancer, so it was kind of a sad waste of eight years. I did enjoy going through those love letters, which were very difficult to read. Once I got the hang of the handwriting, it was definitely an enjoyable task.