Erika Ritzel has been to a lot of estate sales. But rather than seeking out a good deal, the photographer is there to capture the items that have been left behind.

"I hope the way I'm photographing makes the images feel abstract and surreal," Ritzel said in an email. "That is exactly how it feels to be at an estate sale."

Stardust Boulevard, Circle Pines, Minnesota | (Erika Ritzel)

Normandale Court, Stillwater, Minnesota | (Erika Ritzel)

In the more than 37 estate sales and auctions that she has photographed, Ritzel focuses her camera on the orphans — the porcelain horse, the bowling trophies, the simple summer dress hanging on the door — exposing the blurred line between the material and personal, sincere and cynical.

Ritzel witnessed this juxtaposition more personally when she helped to sort, set up, and price, her grandmother's estate sale.

"I saw it as a makeshift museum of her life, but shoppers just wanted to get stuff for a buck cheaper," Ritzel said.

Mark Drive, Waterloo, Illinois. | Ritzel's grandmother's home | (Erika Ritzel)

Mark Drive, Waterloo, Illinois. | Ritzel's grandmother's home | (Erika Ritzel)

By the time her grandmother's auction came and went, Ritzel was already several years into this estate sale project, which would eventually become her book, Changing Hands. But her connection to and interest in the heirlooms of strangers stretches further than that.

Ritzel grew up in an antiquing family and her family still has a booth at an antique flea market near their home in southern Illinois. Her father continues to frequent auctions to bolster the inventory they sell there as well as his own collection of vintage tools.

Stardust Boulevard, Circle Pines, Minnesota | (Erika Ritzel)

Stardust Boulevard, Circle Pines, Minnesota | (Erika Ritzel)

In 2006, when a friend asked Ritzel to document her grandparents' home before its sale, the photographer felt oddly at ease in someone else's house. From then on, estate sales became a way to bridge her antiquing roots and her professional life.

"[In] each new home I photographed I felt like a detective trying to learn something about the owner from their space," Ritzel said. "I was curious to see what objects people were connected to and if they were similar to mine."

123rd Street, Burnsville, Minnesota | (Erika Ritzel)

Hall Street, Concord, New Hampshire | (Erika Ritzel)

Though she initially experimented with photographing people as well as things, Ritzel found objects to be a better conduit of personality than any shopper could. Ritzel eventually stopped going to the sales with the general public. She photographed the estates a day or two before the sales opened, working closely with a company in Minneapolis and contacting auction houses directly when she traveled.

For Ritzel, her favorite image inspires what she calls a "pause" — “where the space feels quiet, but you can still sense a presence,” she explained.

Park Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota | (Erika Ritzel)

16th Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota | (Erika Ritzel)

Highland Place, Columbus Heights, Minnesota | (Erika Ritzel)

To see more of Erika Ritzel's work or to buy the book from her series, visit her website, or follow her Instagram.