Not that my dear friend Suzanne Heintz needs any more publicity. She and her unusual family have finally gone viral over the last few weeks. But as I get her daily updates of who is featuring her story moment by moment (currently our Latin friends at BBC MUNDO), I got to thinking that this might be a story my readers would like.
It’s a story of friendship, faith, fate and a lot of stick-to-it-ness, with just a little bit of inspiration thrown in from this beautiful city I call home.
I met Suzanne nearly 30 years ago when we were working at the circulation desk at Norlin Library at the University of Colorado, Boulder. With Jeanne and Mary, we were four best friends, creative and funny, with the absolute belief that we could do anything we set our minds to. Nothing could stop the Four Musketeers. To this day, I think if you asked any of us, we would tell you without batting an eye, that working at Norlin Library was the best job we ever had. Those were the days of the Beautiful People of America (our tongue-in-cheek anti-sorority club), practical jokes, major crushes on our dishy coworker, John Duane, and keypunch computer cards.
After graduating from CU with Robert Redford in 1988, we all headed our separate ways, and tried to hang on to our devil-may-care attitude. I went on to study in Germany and Washington, D.C., married Superman, lived in Indonesia, moved back to Colorado to raise our girls, and eventually landed in Paris. Mary went on to New York and became an Emmy and DGA award-winning television Director and wonderful maman. Jeanne headed to the Peace Corps first and then onto Chile with her husband and daughter and eventually became a professor and Director of Political Science, at the Universidad de Concepción. And Suzie, well she went on to work in television and media as a Designer and Art Director.
We all had our outside passions and dreams, and for Suzie it was photography. After a straw-breaking confrontation with her mom about her continuing “spinsterhood”, she decided to combine her love affair with the camera with her outrage at being expected to conform to societal norms. For almost 14 years now, Suzanne has been “satirizing the idea of conforming to a universally accepted way of life, married life”, that is. As you can imagine, the energy of battling the “external pressures of culture, and the internal pressures” she put on herself “to fit into the expectations” of society, built up over time, and thus her defiant project: Life Once Removed was born.
This is not just a project photographing her mannequin family in comedic real life situations, this is a photography project and performance art piece with teeth and a valid point. Just take a look at her short, Playing House, recently screened at the Women’s Film Festival in Denver.
I have been lucky enough to dip in and out of this art project over the years. Sometimes helping her stage and photograph her fabulous family Christmas cards, sometimes brainstorming the next great shoot, and most recently hosting her (and her inflexible family) in Paris for the family vacation of a lifetime.
This vacation was a real labor of love and a true test of our friendship. Let’s just say mannequin wrangling is NOT for the faint of heart.
It was two weeks of constant dragging, assembling, dressing, re-dressing, salvaging broken digits, murmuring from my frightened guardienne, arguing with the gendarmerie, and stealing secret footage when they looked the other way. It was hours of holding heavy light kits, managing wardrobe malfunctions, retrieving lost batteries, applying bright red lipstick and too much hairspray, and dazzling smiles. Our nights were filled with foot massages, good wine, tears, aching shoulders, late night soul baring, and booming disagreements, followed by hours of laughter and lots of fine dance music.
My Paris girlfriends stepped up to help my outlandish and unknown friend. From chauffeuring to snapping shots and learning new skills, to translating and dealing with some stubborn French authoritarians, to recruiting family members to help out and standing for hours in the freezing June rain, to all of the above at once, I will always remember how this group of women came through in a pinch to help another women realize her dream. Chapeau! Chère Nicola, Emily, Julie and Catherine…and, bien sûr, Superman and my girlfriends’ hubbys too.
And now after almost a decade and a half of doing the creative work, and nine months since our unusual visitors departed Paris, Suzie is finally having her moment in the sun. Hallelujah! It is so wonderful to see.
Chin Chin to you Suz! Thanks for reminding me that our devil-may-care ways of old are still the key to happiness and success, and that art is both important and hard. But most importantly that it’s (also) kind of fun to do the impossible!*
Chapeau! Hats off! Congratulations! (and in my case, merci beaucoup mes amies!)
Chin Chin! Cheers!
guardienne: caretaker (usually of an apartment building)
* it’s kind of fun to do the impossible! – Walt Disney