Suzanne Heintz (B. 1965, Yonkers, New York) is an American photographer.
Though trained in Writing, Communication, Painting, Photography and Design, the chosen mediums for her personal work are Photography, Video, and Performance Art.
Her professional work as an Art Director for Television greatly influences how she works artistically. It taught her that to have an impact, you must connect with your audience. Since she is trying to change public attitudes with her work, she uses mediums that have the most universal appeal. It is for the same reason, that she uses humor and performance art in a public setting. She feels that it is the best way to disarm people, so that she can get through to them.
Being raised in New York, not only was she surrounded by a multitude of cultural influences, but also 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. It provided her 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 her work can be seen.
These influences have come together in shaping the focus of her subject matter. The external pressures of culture, and the internal pressures she placed on herself to fit into the expectations of that culture, built up over time, until she decided to do something about it. In order to confront it, she felt she had to satirize the idea of Conformity to a universally accepted way of life, Married Life. This has been a primary focus of her work for nearly 14 years. Previously, her 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.”
This is a recent interview of Suzanne Heintz that she gently allows me to use in this article :
1. Suzanne please tell us about yourself and your photography and your art direction work. Do you have your own studio? What do you specialize in?
I don’t have the typical resume of an Artist. I came at it from a different angle.
I was raised in Yonkers, New York, the youngest of 4 red-blooded American kids, & the only one to not marry and have children. I studied Liberal Arts, particularly Fine Art, ultimately deciding to go to Pratt Institute for Design. I never planned on being anything but a working Print Designer in New York, but the road that got me here - had a few twists in it.
After working for a Record Company in Manhattan, I ended up jumping around the country doing Broadcast Design for various Cable TV Networks, ESPN, CNN, etc, and wound up leaving the East Coast for the Rocky Mountains to join a Network named Starz.
I worked as a Motion Designer, and an Art Director. It was there, that I worked on Live Action Film shoots for the first time, concepting ideas, working with a Crew, blocking shots, selecting wardrobe, and cultivating the overall look and feel of the Spot.
At the same time, I went back to my photography studies, where I began doing work of a more personal nature. My Instructors pushed for a conceptual foundation for their photo students, and that was alright by me. I’d always responded to work that had a human concreteness to it.
That’s why I’m hell-bent on my work connecting with people through a shared human experience. I guess you could say that’s my “Specialty.” The chance to directly connect with people is why I like working in a Public Space. I also need them to appear in my images to add context and meaning.
Since I now prefer to work on Location, I don’t really need a Studio. The Mannequins are awkward, but fairly portable. Just walking around with them getting to the location is half the fun. I enjoy seeing people’s expressions.
2. What artists do you admire most?
I always loved the audacity of Claes Oldenburg. And the warped beauty of Diane Arbus’s work. The incredible scale of production of Gregory Crewdson’s Photos, paired with his subject matter - The psychology of Man and his environment. But most definitely, Red Grooms is my biggest Crush on any artist ever. I learned that Art can actually be funny, from him.
I remember walking through his “Subway” (out of “Ruckus Manhattan”) when I was a kid, and I was stunned that I could have so much fun at an Art Exhibit. It was also mind-blowing to me that you were allowed to touch, it step on it, walk through it. It was built to make you experience it so directly, that you HAD to respond, and laugh. Kind of like a Roller Coaster.
It was so uninhibited.
It was so uninhibited.
And his characters! It’s no coincidence that his work started out 2 dimensional and evolved to be 3 dimensional. It expanded over time. 2D wasn’t enough for him. Not enough for me either.
3.You have built a great reputation for your road trips with mannequins in your “Life Once Removed” series. What would drive you to pack a family of mannequins into your station wagon, and take them on a road trips?
The Pressure to conform sent me over the edge. I had just about enough of virtually everyone I spoke to, asking me why “such a nice girl“ wasn’t married already. Implying that there must be some awful secret that I was hiding that might scare the marriageable men away. Somehow they found me a curious freak, that wasn’t living up to expectations. That even in the 21st century the scourge of the Spinster label is still alive and kicking.
But what really triggered all this was a conversation I had with my Mother, in which she said, “Suzy, Nobody’s perfect. You’re just going to have to PICK SOMEBODY if you want to settle down!” I snapped back at her and said, “Mom, it’s not like I can go out and BUY an family! I can’t just MAKE it happen!”
Ultimately, I did. And started a whole photo series documenting my life with a manufactured Family, as if to say, “if the image of a family life is so important to uphold, then here, here is the image.” If they were real, would it be any less about the Image?
And to this day, she still can’t recall ever having had that conversation.
4. You talk about Spinsterhood. Would you explain your perspective in that regard?
Look, the idea is so antiquated. An unmarried woman a hundred years ago was a problem. She had few prospects to support herself. It was a dreadful affliction! Nowadays, the remnants of that belief still exist. That if you’re unmarried, there must be something very wrong with you, otherwise, you’d be taken.
Where is it written that there is a social imperative to marry and have children? That’s what I’m driving at. Is my life wrong because it doesn’t follow an expected pattern? Would I be better off if I had gone through the motions and married for the sake of running out of time? Would my life be quantitatively better if I had a family to pose with in front of the sign at the Grand Canyon?
This isn’t just about me and it isn’t just about Marriage either. This is about any aspect of anyone’s life that doesn’t fall in line with expectation. Those expectations only trip you up when your life turns out differently.
5. Our publication addresses the creation of three dimensional arts. Many of our readers who are also artists (and very judgmental I might add) might feel your work less creative art and more performance art. How do you respond to that? (I don’t agree, but we have very opinionated readers so I must anticipate the question as I know it will come)
On the contrary, my work couldn’t be more 3 dimensional. While I do produce a 2 dimensional image or Video after the shoot, that’s just what’s left. The space in which I work IS 3 Dimensional, with 3 dimensional, living people, and 3 dimensional sculptural representations of people, aka, Mannequins.
I interact with both the representational form and the live human form in order to get a rise, and ultimately make a connection with the people near me, and the people who see my Images later. When someone experiences a photograph of a sculpture, or sees it in person, it doesn’t mean it has not always been a 3 dimensional piece of Art. They are just different windows to view it from. As I mentioned before, 2 Dimensions were not enough for me, so I moved to work in a 3 dimensional space where I could reach more people. I can’t imagine it’s any different for any Sculptor.
6. You have actually made an interesting blending of two dimensional art with your images and videos of a creative three dimensional imaginary world – a hybrid art form so to speak. Do you agree?
Yes, I’d agree that it’s a hybrid of 2D and 3D worlds. But I would not agree it’s imaginary. It’s not that I imagined a perfect family. I bought them. There is not one bit of this experience that is imaginary, when you are hauling a heavy Mannequin on your shoulders through a crowd.
I did this to make a point that what’s imaginary is our allegiance to the image of a perfect family within the grasp of every man and woman out there. Why, 40 years after Women’s Lib, am I suspect for not falling in line with expectations for a Woman of my age?
Why are we all pretending that everyone needs to conform to some sort of external or even internal expectations? I’m hoping to get people to let go, and realize their lives cannot be wrong.
7. How often do you make your roads trips?
I don’t have a set amount. But I only get 4 weeks of vacation per year. That’s my limitation. I still a Company WoMAN. I usually try to combine a real vacation and a performed one. And no, I don’t write it off my Taxes that way, though I really should.
8. How do you carry your plastic family?
Sometimes in a car, sometimes in a Taxi, sometimes on my shoulders, sometimes strapped to a Hand Truck. We’ve even taken a ride on the Funicular up the steps of Montmartre in Paris, but by far the most extravagant and costly has been overseas via UPS.
9. How many trips have you done?
Gosh, I never counted. Do you count the corner store? It runs the gamut from local to International. We do small trips to even the local Laundromat, and Hiking, Skating, Ski trips and DogSled Rides in the Rockies, and Road Trips to classic Road Side Attractions, like Carhenge in Nebraska, and Big National Parks like Arches in Utah, and even Yellowstone, in Wyoming. We never did get to Disneyland, but we saw all the sights in Paris.
10. Tell me about the most interesting experience(s) you have encountered while traveling with your family.
Trying to rent them skates? Checking into a Motel with them? Waiting for Old Faithful to erupt? Dancing at the Valentine’s Ball? Trying to learn how to steer a Dogsled without knocking them off? I have a hard time picking, they’re ALL interesting.
11. You have a very interesting view on life as most creative people have. Does this scare away prospects for a real life partner, or are you content with a family that can never disagree with you?
Ask my boyfriend.
No, really. A lot of people call me Crazy when they see what I do. But as Einstein said, “Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.” What I do is not because I’m imbalanced, it’s because I need to take it to an extreme for my point to be heard in this world oversaturated with Images and messaging. And I’m willing to do what it takes.
My Man understands that. Anybody who talks to me understands that I am not anti-marriage or anti-family. Quite the opposite, actually. I am just trying to let people know that no one’s life turns out according to expectation, and you need to embrace your life for what it is, and who it’s made you. That you are allowed to decide what your life looks like without having to answer to someone else’s image of how it should be.
12. Speaking of family, tell me about your family. What type of careers did your mother and father have? Did they inspire you? What do they think of the “Project?”
My family was your classic Suburban Family, and Mormon to boot. That provided the frame of reference for my work. I’m no longer Mormon, but the social expectations of the church did leave a mark.
My father was blue collar and supported the family with his Auto Repair Shop. My Mother began as a Housewife, but joined the workforce in the 70s to help support the family, and ultimately was the breadwinner, after he passed away. She did quite well for herself, and eventually ran the Human Resources Department for Elizabeth Arden. All this while raising four kids. She eventually met and married my Stepfather, who took us all on in our teenage years. What a Trooper.
Did they inspire me? Yes. But indirectly. My upbringing provided the framework for the concepts behind my work. But no one suggested I be an Artist. Actually, my Mother stressed that it was important to take care of myself, and be responsible. To find a career that would support me. So I tried to combine being Creative with a regular Paycheck. And that’s how I ended up in Design working for large Corporations.
Now as far as visual inspiration? Absolutely! I stole that all from my Mother and Father. What’s crazy is, I’m the spitting image of my Mother when I wear those clothes. It even freaks her out a little to see the resemblance. I inherited her look, but not her life.
13. Do you have pets?
Yes, I have living, breathing pets, they are not Taxidermied. I have 2 cats, and no, I’m not yet a Cat Lady, but there’s still time.
14. What type of education did you have?
The real education I got was from being raised in New York, not necessarily where I went to school. All those wild characters walking around the streets of Manhattan. All the angst, all the ego, the unbridled creativity, but most of all - the contradiction. The image versus the reality. I think that left more of a mark than being raised Mormon did.
15. Who inspires you?
Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, most Musicians, Sand Sculptors, and people who play the accordion. But really, I have a thing for Christo and Jean-Claude. They’re not afraid of literally tackling the landscape on IT’S terms. Talk about bring art outside the frame, and bringing new awareness? Courageous as Hell! That’s what takes my breath away.
16. Do you have plans for a new project or are you still inspired to keep “Life Once Removed” continuing into the future with more trips?
Well let’s just say, it continues to entertain me thinking about what could happen next. I’m cooking up something, but I still need some time to simmer.
17. With your skill set and all the years of trips – is there a hint of a documentary in the future of Ms. Heintz?
You bet your Bippy, there is. My friend, and earliest Collaborator on this project, had always been after me to record the process of how this takes shape. In her words, “It’s hysterical!” So I finally “made it happen.”
18. Are you able to generate an income from this form or art or do you use the wonderful publicity to help promote your own photography?
No, income has not been the focus of this project. Impact, has.
19. What has been your greatest success and greatest failure?
I don’t really think about this in terms of success or failure. I do it because I want to, and need to, regardless of the outcome. I wouldn’t keep doing this after 13 years, if I was after a reward.
20. What project are you working on presently?
I’m just finishing up my 1st Documentary on the Mannequin project, called “Playing House.”
I’m also taking some time to regroup. I’m actually leaving the family behind to go shoot perfect strangers in Asia. Also work for the point of human connection, but without all the baggage restraints.
21. Where can our readers see more your artwork?
My website, www.be.net/suzanneheintz and you can see the Trailer for my Documentary on Vimeo. www.vimeo.com/suzanneheintz/playinghouse
22. Any final comments to our readers?
As Artists, you are meant to expand beyond with utter disregard for expectations, whether they are other’s, or your own. If 3 Dimensions isn’t enough for you, try another one.
A video by Suzanne Heintz : http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/holiday-greetings-from-a-still-life-family/
A video by Suzanne Heintz : http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/holiday-greetings-from-a-still-life-family/