Suzanne Heintz: Life Once Removed
When we were children, we were fed a generic and age old template for our futures: marriage, 2.5 children, and the white picket fence. Today we understand that those templates are skewed to the very few, and a perfect life is created by many varied scenarios. Suzanne Heintz had one of those childhoods, were parental and societal expectations began to weigh on her sense of self. One year, after receiving her annual onslaught of happy family holiday cards, she took matters into her own hands and decided to create her own family, on her own terms. And because I so admire her gumption and she now creates the best holiday cards, I wanted to share her work on Lenscratch during the holidays. I mean, how many people travel to Paris with a husband and child mannequin in tow?
Suzanne shares her story: Though trained in Writing, Communication, Painting, Photography and Design, the medium I choose for my personal work is Photography and Video. My professional work as an Art Director for Television greatly influences how I work artistically. It also has taught me that if you want to have an impact, you have to connect with your audience. Both of these mediums are approachable and resonate with the largest populations. Since I am trying to change public attitudes with my work, I use the medium that has the most universal appeal. It is for the same reason, that I use humor and performance art in a public setting. It is the best way to disarm people, so that you can get through to them.
Being raised in New York, not only was I surrounded by a multitude of cultural influences, but also I was around larger-than-life Characters, in which the Projection of Self was the name of the game. Having been raised in the Mormon Church also made a lasting impression on me. It gave me my first experience in the idealization of family, and the glorification of the role of women as Mother and Homemaker. If you connect these dots, an image of my work can be seen.
These influences have come together in shaping the focus of my subject matter. The external pressures of culture, and the internal pressures I placed on myself to fit into the expectations of that culture, built up over time, until I decided to do something about it. In order to confront it, I felt I had to satirize the idea of conformity to a universally accepted way of life, married life. This has been the focus of my work for nearly 14 years. Previously, my subject matter dealt with related issues on being human, and struggle with self. Though I see value and beauty in work that focuses on other things besides humanity, it is the only subject that compels me to manifest a public expression of it.
Life Once Removed
It was getting late. Seriously late for a woman my age not to have a ring on her finger. People said, “You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?” No one actually used that out of date word, but, what they were driving at was that I was a “Spinster,” and I got tired of hearing about it. Even my Mother must have thought she was setting me straight when she said, “Suzy, there’s nobody perfect out there. You just need to PICK somebody, if you’re going to settle down.”
I snapped back, “Mom! It’s not like I can go out and BUY a family! I can’t just MAKE it happen!” But then, I found a way. I bought a beautiful Family …of Mannequins. I decided to start a photo project out of the Kodak Moments I’d capture with my new Store-Bought Family.
My own home was the backdrop for the first images. over the next decade. Scenes of an idyllic home life eventually extended into a series of Holiday Greetings, as a satirical response to annual family photo cards. However, the project took a turn after taking them on a road trip. I saw the potential in shooting in Public. Seeing me work with the Mannequins is such a peculiar and funny thing to witness, that people are immediately disarmed. As soon as that happens, their mind is open and impressionable. Using humor, coupled with shock, allows my message to penetrate, and the work can have greater impact. The aim is to get people to reconsider their allegiance to traditional life expectations.
Ozzie & Harriet are dead. So why is this antiquated idea still affecting our image of marriage? It is the reason why this Series is named “Life Once Removed.” A family relation, a generation apart, is “once removed.” So is our relationship with our path in Life. It’s passed on by the previous generation, once removed from our own. Why do we cling to past tradition as the measure of success in the present?
This project isn’t only for women in terms of marriage, it applies to anybody who’s life doesn’t fit expectations, whether that comes from their parents, their culture, or themselves. No one’s life turns out the way they or their Parents imagined it would. So many of us spend the second half of our lives trying to reconcile the choices we made in the first half. Just like any artist, I’m out to change perception. I want people, particularly women, to let go of the judgment, be at peace, and bless your life as it comes to you.
Life Once Removed: The Holiday Card Series