Suzanne Heintz and her plastic love in Life Once Removed
You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.
Suzanne Heintz, a local local photographer and self-proclaimed spinster, recently saw her mannequin family portraits go viral. But there's much more to Heintz, synthetic husband Chauncey and perpetually adolescent daughter Mary Margaret than meets the eye.
A New York expat and Starz art director, Heintz is the kind of person we all want to be friends with. That's because for the past fourteen years, she's been sending her friends and family the most delightfully bizarre holiday cards known to man.
"I'm so tickled pink to be able to explain what I'm doing and the point behind it," says Heintz, whose mannequin portraits, a long-term project she calls Life Once Removed, have been exhibited primarily through the U.S. Postal Service. And while they've been received with mixed emotion since gracing the Internet, behind all the hype is a message that resonates with almost everyone -- not just the "old" and single. (Heintz says she's old, but we disagree.)
"Life develops the way it develops, and you need to love it for what it is," says the artist. Her mother has been bugging her about marriage for the better part of two decades now. But whether it's marriage or babies or more babies or more money or a better job or a better house, there is always something else we all could be doing. And that's the beautifully simple point behind Life Once Removed: "We are enough," says Heintz.
She calls the mannequins "a Eureka moment." About fifteen years ago, Heintz and her mom were going at it. "Nobody's perfect," Heintz's mother told her. "If you are going to get married, you'll just have to pick somebody."
To that, Heintz responded: "Mom, it's not like I can go out and buy a family and make it happen."
Or could she? Later that fateful night, Heintz flew back to Denver and found herself walking past a retail liquidation outlet. That's when she saw a row of mannequins for sale and realized, "I can buy a family!"
And, with that realization, a long-term love affair with Ken-like Chauncey began. "If I have to go through the motions, this is what it is going to look like," says Heintz, contemplating aloud some of her favorite "memories" she's crafted over the years.
Oh, it's weird, all right. And fun. But behind all of the weirdness and fun, there's a healthy dose of modern feminism to boot.
"As women, we've never had more opportunity available," Heintz says. "But look at all the mixed messages we get; we are constantly comparing the way our lives look to others." Heintz blames social media, which she thinks can be especially damaging for young women still developing their sense of self.
Heintz's sense of self is pretty damn radiant and well-formed. "People expect me to be all wamp wamp, but you can be happy without all the stuff people think you need," she says.
By the way, Heintz isn't technically alone. "I've had boyfriends my whole life," she says, explaining that marriage never felt right. "I don't see a reason to force the situation." Neither does the long-term, live-in boyfriend Heintz has been with for the past seven years.
While the bulk of Heintz's shows happen via direct mail, there's a live element, too. "It's somewhat like a living gallery in open air because I try to involve the public in my shoots," says Heintz, who creates every portrait on location. "I need the public for character and context, and I also invite people to ask questions about why I'm doing what I'm doing."
Heintz loves to see the authentic reactions garnered by her process. Usually folks are thrilled, shocked and, sometimes, overcome with laughter. Occasionally, people are so taken aback they don't know what to say -- and so they steer clear. Keep reading for more of Suzanne Heintz.
If your curiosity is piqued and you want to catch a local shooting, Heintz and Chauncey, who eloped for their first wedding, will be recommitting themselves to each other on Monday, June 16 in a day-long celebration at the Grant-Humphreys Mansion. The artist is currently working with venue wedding planners, and the event will include an officiated ceremony, live band, food and guests -- half of whom will be mannequins from the groom's side of the family, of course.
And really, Heintz's live photography is worth seeing. She's mostly a one-man band. Back when she started the project and was still shooting film, she shot blind. Now, with digital, there's a little less guesswork. But the process is still hilarious. "It is squirrely to watch me work because there is so much back and forth," Heintz says. She takes 300 to 500 shots per session, and the ordeal takes hours.
Lately, Heintz's photographs have become increasingly complex. Take the dogsled portrait (above), shot in Steamboat Springs during a freaking blizzard.
And then there was the Paris trip! Last June, Heintz and Chauncey took their daughter overseas and captured the experience with a few fantastic photographs.
There was also a camera crew in tow, filming the upcoming documentary Playing House, which Heintz is making to show her process and explain the project. The first chapter of the film is complete and will be released at the ninth annual Vancouver International Women in Film Festival this March. Heintz expects the full film to be done this fall.
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