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Artist takes her ‘plastic family’ on Paris vacation 

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All photos courtesy of Suzanne Heintz.
Suzanne Heintz has a model family. Literally. Her husband, Chauncey, and daughter, Mary-Margaret, are mannequins. For over a decade now, the American artist, who is actually single, has taken photos of herself posing with her picture-perfect “family” to poke fun of society’s expectations of what her life should look like. Recently, she took Chauncey and Mary-Margaret on a postcard-perfect trip to Paris.
The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Luxembourg Gardens, quaint little cafés… Last month, “the Familyquins”, as Heintz calls her pretend family, saw it all. In the resulting photos, most of which are shots of her and her “husband”, Heintz’s face is vividly expressive – almost frighteningly joyful – while Chauncey’s is plastic and passive. This jarring contrast is exactly what the artist is going for.

The artist and her “husband” Chauncey having a picnic on the banks of the Seine, with Notre Dame cathedral in the background.

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“I told my mother, ‘it’s not like I can go out and buy a family!’ But then, I did.”

Suzanne Heintz is the artist behind “The Familyquins”. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

I’ve been doing this for 13 years now – longer than most marriages! It started out of vengeful spite, really. But it was also self defence.
For years, I’d been catching a lot of heat for being single, well into the years where most were nesting and hatching eggs. Not me. I chose the path of a Career Woman. Sure, I dated, had relationships, but it just never got to the “man and wife” stage. But even so, I was still considered a spinster. Even in the 21rst century, somehow I was still destined to be a “cat lady” if I didn’t get on the ball and find Mr. Right, wrestle him to the ground, and demand a diamond.
It all came to a head one Christmas in my mother’s kitchen in Salt Lake City. While I watched her make dinner, we chatted about my latest breakup. She put it to me point blank: “Suzy, there’s nobody perfect out there. You just need to pick somebody, and settle down. You’re not getting any younger.” 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 did.
When I walked past a retail liquidation store that had a full family of mannequins in the window, a light bulb went off in my head. I decided to start a photo project out of the “Kodak moments” I’d capture with my new store-bought family.

On the Alma bridge.

“It’s hysterically funny to watch the process, but it’s got a deeper message”
It started out small, mainly shooting family scenes in my own home. But after my girlfriends and I took them on our first Familyquin road trip to Carhenge in Nebraska – a truly bizarre American roadside attraction – the project took a turn for the better. It made me realise the potential of doing it in public. It’s hysterically funny to watch the process, but it’s got a deeper message. The point is to get people to reconsider their allegiance to traditional life expectations. Everyone laughs. Most are extremely curious, and stop and ask a lot of questions, which gives me a great opportunity to explain the larger idea behind the spectacle.

The artist at work.

The idea is that my life, anyone’s life, cannot be “wrong.” It is not “behind schedule” if things don’t happen at certain times. Our lives are completely our own, so why do we feel such a strong need to carry the baggage of previous generations?

In front of the Arc de Triomphe.

“I abandoned my husband on a street corner”
Recently, I decided to expand the project to Paris, which is after all the capital city of romance – the ideal place for a vacation. At first, I was very surprised by the reaction of the French. I’ve been at this so long, I thought I knew what to expect. But no. The sophistication of the French threw me. They seemed to take it in stride, as if it was no big deal to see a woman dressed like I Love Lucy [an American TV show popular in the 1950s] dragging mannequins through the Champ de Mars. But when I went to shoot in places that were less touristy, a lot more people started to take notice. I was surprised by how helpful and interested the French were. They were quite generous with their time, too, even volunteering to hold the light reflector for me! So I’ve got to say, the stereotype of the French attitude isn’t really true in my experience.

Taking a break at a typically Parisian café.

My “husband” Chauncey is more of a symbol than he is a character in my photos. He stands for the stiff inflexibility of the one-size-fits-all approach to life. In many of my photos, my expression is a huge, fake, over-the-top toothy grin, like “Oh my. Isn’t this great?!” It makes a funny image, but really it’s a parody. It reflects the pretence of an idealized picture of happiness. It’s a postcard – which are never really about the reality of travel; they’re proclamations: “Hey, look at me! See where I am, and you’re not? My life is so great! Wish you were here.” Very much like Facebook, which is a digital postcard.

The “family” taking in the sun at the Luxembourg Gardens.

In other photos, my face is serious. It shows a certain resignation to the idea. It looks more normal, so it makes you do a double take when you notice the family in the photo is fake.
As I was preparing to leave Paris, I found out that shipping home my husbands – I’ve actually got two Chauncey mannequins, one in a standing position and one in a sitting position – would be more expensive than just having duplicates made back in the US. So I decided to keep my daughter (she’s lighter) and abandon my husband. I guess I was ready for a divorce. I decided to literally “dump the baggage” inherited from my mother’s generation. I felt wild, and I tell you, it felt good.

Chauncey stayed behind in Paris.

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