For most of us, washing clothes is just another tedious task, something to check off a “laundry” list of things to get done.
For photographer Yvette Meltzer, laundry is anything but tedious: It’s inspiring. Laundry hanging on the line, laundry in a washtub, and, notably, laundry in a dryer, a subject she serendipitously discovered and subsequently created a series about titled “Revolutions.”
“I have long loved the beauty of refurbished cloth—the transformation from soiled to clean,” Meltzer wrote via email about her fascination with the chore often met with a groan.
It was a cold February day in Chicago when Meltzer, camera in hand, began looking for laundromats to document. She began by photographing children folding laundry with adults and then shot some stacked laundry. From there she went after detergent bottles, machines that dispensed laundry bottles, and the soapsuds splashing against the windows of the washing machines.
She also took shots of the revolving clothing rising and falling in the windows of the dryers.
“It wasn’t until I went to the computer to upload the photos that I saw the images that emerged in many of the dryer photos and I was mesmerized,” she wrote. “Therein, I saw faces and forms of both people and animals.”
It marked the beginning of “Revolutions” a series she says is a type of “Rorshach” test.
“What I see is not what someone else does,” she wrote. “But people do seem mesmerized by the images and attempt to discern what it is they are looking for. People seem to have such a need for definition and tend to be uncomfortable with the ambiguous.”
Meltzer spent about two years working on “Revolutions” in a number of different laundromats. She said that one of the biggest challenges was finding dryers that didn’t reflect florescent lights common in most laundromats. She also had the occasional run-in with customers who objected to her taking photos of their laundry so she started showing people her work to give them a better idea of her project.
“They didn’t seem to understand, but most were fine with my continuing to photograph,” she said.
She considered a few titles for the series but settled on “Revolutions” because it not only spoke to the obvious but she also felt it described a bit better her new way of looking at laundry.
“I use the camera to illustrate how the ordinary can be extraordinary,” she wrote.
Meltzer said that even as a child she had a unique vision and would often ask her family ‘do you see what I see?” “Revolutions” is yet another example of her unique take on the ordinary, a way for her to share what she sees with the rest of us.