Preparing to wed a mannequin, Suzanne Heintz ponders love, commitment and marriage
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Suzanne Heintz is "mocking the Good Housewife of the 50s but inside I think she yearns for that lifestyle," wrote one reader in response to a piece that Beautiful Decay ran last January on Heintz's unique project, Life Once Removed, a compilation of 46 family portraits depicting the fake life that Heintz shares with mannequin husband Chauncey and their forever-young offspring, Mary Margaret. That surface-level interpretation missed the point of Heintz's profoundly gritty social commentary about purported normality and the married-with-two-kids American dream. So as Heintz prepares to renew her vows with Chauncey during a daylong celebration next week at the Grant-Humphreys Mansion -- the two eloped back in 2000 -- we caught up with the photographer to talk about marriage, mannequins and her renewed commitment to the project.
"I'm concerned people will think I'm denigrating marriage, and that isn't the case," Heintz says. When it comes to her upcoming nuptials, the photographer thinks that the commitment is what should be central to the day -- as it should be for all weddings. "Is it really about the pictures and the $2,000 dress, or is it just pretty great that your family is there?" she wonders aloud.
Often overlooked by the media is the fact that Heintz is a truly gifted photographer with a knack for capturing both movement and expression. She photographed each of the pictures in her fourteen-year-long project, and so she'll be snapping her own wedding portraits as friends and family -- some real people from Heintz's side, others mannequins from Chauncy's clan -- gather to watch the two tie the knot.
The whole thing is elaborate, well-planned and strangely real. Heintz has spent an exorbitant amount of time preparing for the big day. She will wear a big white dress and walk down the aisle with her stepdad; her mom will be decked out in mother-of-the-bride best. "Somehow they have gone from thinking I'm the kooky bird in the family to fully embracing and even participating in it," says Heintz. "My sister is going to be the matron of honor, and my brother, a public defender, is going to be the judge who marries us." Another brother will serve as usher and, in the most wonderfully strange twist of all, Heintz's real-life boyfriend will participate as Chauncey's best man.
"I think he's tired of it, honestly, but I think he enjoys that the world is finally understanding and recognizing it," says Heintz, in response to a question about how her boyfriend -- also a faithful assistant who helps with lighting and staging -- feels about her mannequin marriage. "He's psyched for the impact [the project] is having, but I don't think he's psyched for the wedding in any way."
Heintz and her human boyfriend have been in a committed relationship for seven years, "but we are also choosing not to get married," Heintz says. "I just don't think I need the label that comes from the marriage certificate." And while Heintz is totally content with that decision, she's become irked by the fact that, for others, her relationship doesn't quite count.
"Everybody has their own image of what marriage should be," she explains. "Mine is about commitment, and I don't think you need the government or the church or your parents or anybody else to tell you that you are committed."
For Heintz, a relationship is built on the tiny, mundane moments that make up a life, ones she has staged and photographed over the years: folding laundry at the laundromat with Mary Margaret, awaking beside a sleepy Chauncey.
After getting positive feedback from young women, Heintz, who had grown tired of the project and considered quitting last year, decided she needed to recommit herself to Life Once Removed because "it has potential to help people and change our concept of what is supposed to be a female idea, and also a human ideal," she says. Hence the upcoming wedding. Keep reading for more on Suzanne Heintz's Life Once Removed.
"The wedding day is going to be anchored around six photographs I am taking," says Heintz, who has supplemented her income over the years by photographing weddings, and is familiar with each of the classic wedding portraits. So the day's photos will include "the bridal zip-up with mom, a cake shot, an aisle shot, the first dance shot ... all the things normal people do."
A film crew, part of director Karen Whitehead's documentary on Heintz and her short called Playing House (see trailer below), will be capturing the day's' events, and guests will serve as extras in both the film and Heintz's wedding portraits.
The project, like the marriage itself, offers the perfect union of comedy and raw emotion, begging each of us to consider a nagging question we'd rather ignore: In a fast-paced, technological and oversaturated world where life often unfolds exactly as we depict it on social media outlets, where do the fake moments end and the real ones begin?
Interjected into the photo-log, too, is a valid and healthy feminist morsel. "Every day my life counts, not just the ones when I'm with my man," says Heintz. "Plenty of people go through years of being alone, and they just mope through it, but I think you should embrace every single time in your life for the value it provides you."
For more information on Heintz and Life Once Removed, visit her website.
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