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“Life Once Removed” – A Satirical Look at the American Dream

By Hanssie on February 10th 2014

A white picket fence, a loving husband, 2.3 kids (how do you get that .3rd kid?) and a dog in the middle of suburbia…the American Dream. A concept which died somewhere in the 1970’s, I believe. Yet, that didn’t stop every single one of my married friends asking me when I would join their society of married people before the ink was even dry on my bachelor’s degree. Family members at every wedding would tell me that I wasn’t getting any younger and that it was time to “settle down.” I believed them and at the ripe old age of 24, I got married. Then, the questions of when I’d have children arose…usually by a frazzled looking friend, who hadn’t slept the night before because her kid was sick all night. So, I succumbed to that pressure and had a kid a few years later and adopted a dog. Then got divorced. Oh, the American Dream…

Tired of Being labeled a “Spinster”

Photographer Suzanne Heintz was in the same boat. “It was getting late,” she says, “Seriously late for a woman my age not to have a ring on her finger.  People said, ‘You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?’  No one actually used that out of date word, but, what they were driving at was that I was a “Spinster,” and I got tired of hearing about it.”

Feeling the pressure from all around, even from her mother, she did what any photographer in her situation would do, she went to the store and “bought a beautiful family…of Mannequins.” Yes, you read that correctly. She decided to have “Kodak moments” with her new plastic family as a photo project.

[REWIND: 5 Simple Tips For Taking More Natural Family Portraits]

“Life Once Removed”

At first, she began her project at home, as Suzanne tells us, “scenes of an idyllic home life eventually extended into a series of Holiday Greetings, as a satirical response to annual family photo cards.”

2000 At Home - KISS GOODNIGHT - 650px-wmk

2000 At Home - CLIPPERS - 650px-wmkThen, she took her “family” on a road trip…and so began “Life Once Removed,” a project that stands up and questions the “traditional life expectations.”  For the last 14 years, Suzanne has focused her energies changing the mindset of society one family photograph at a time, and using her photos to try to change the culture that pressures people to conform to a certain way of life, the Married Life. Using humor and shock, Suzanne satirizes the “American Dream,” or what people see as a successful life.

Family Vacation to Paris

Here is Suzanne and her “family” on vacation in Paris:

2013 Paris - 9 - NOTRE DAME - LAP OF LOVE - 650px-wmk 2013 Paris - 8 - METRO - 650px-wmk2013 Paris - 6 - STEPS OF SACRE COEUR - 650px-wmk 2013 Paris - 4 - CAFE AMERICAIN - 650px-wmk 2013 Paris - 2 - ARC DE TRIOMPHE - 650px-wmk Suzanne says in her artist statement, “We are constantly set up by our expectations to feel as though we are missing something. I thought it was high time to call this nonsense out publicly, because this notion of insufficiency is not just about me, nor exclusively about Women in regards to Marriage.  It’s about anyone whose life doesn’t look the way it ‘should.‘”

2013 At Home - SLEEPING IN - 650px-wmkSuzanne-Heintz-1 2013 At Home - LAUNDROMAT - 650px-wmk 2012 Christmas12 - LIFTED SPIRITS - 650px-wmk 2008 Christmas08 - THE ACCIDENT - 650px-wmkGear List

Suzanne’s Gear List is comprehensive and humorous. She told me that “None of it is made up, this is a true list. I don’t always use all of it on every shoot, but various combinations of gear.” I can only image her setting up her locations and the reactions of the public watching her do so.

“Playing House” Documentary

Suzanne is working on a documentary of her project, called, “Playing House.” You can see the trailer below:

I’m simply trying to get people to open up their minds, and quit clinging to outdated assumptions of what a successful life looks like.  I want people to lighten up on each other, and themselves, and embrace their lives for who it’s made them, with or without the Mrs., PhD. or Esq. attached to your name.

You can see more of Suzanne’s “family” photos, including her wedding and pregnancy photos, Christmas and other fun holidays on her website and her portfolio site.

[via @Design Taxi]

CREDITS: All photographs by Suzanne Heintz are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.



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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  3. Makeda

    Aww I love this. Such a creative idea.

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  4. Becca

    I loved the unique artistry Suzanne produces – Totally agree that it would be hilarious to be an observer :0). I am unable to see the correlation between marital staus and greater (or lesser): character, intelligence, generosity, success, happiness, loneliness, likability etc. I can appreciate Suzanne exposing preconceptions & biases that we can unthinkingly harbor.

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  5. sandyhu26

    I have two words for you, “Just a Guy”, and they are NOT “Happy Birthday”. You must really enjoy your life.

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  6. Just a Guy

    I never ask this question. I dated a spinster. They’re not “nice girls.” Just like their confirmed bachelor counterparts, they are self-centered creatures, unable to care about anyone. People who get married and stay that way are people who care about the other person. Everyone else is lonely because they can’t think about anything but their own lives.

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    • Sira

      Um, what the hell are you on about? Sweeping generalizations rarely work.

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    • David Liang

      You dated “a” spinster and that qualifies you to judge all of them? A sample size of one is not a sample size, it is an isolated incident and you’re a fool for trying to judge a group with a single experience.

      “Everyone else is lonely because they can’t think about anything but their own lives”

      Asinine opinion aside, logically your statement is contradictory. If a person was self-centered and only concerned with they’re own lives, the last thing they would feel is loneliness since they live for themselves. It’s that longing for acceptance, for belonging, for someone else’s affection that causes the feeling of loneliness.

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  7. wjp

    Mannequins: When models just won’t do as they’re told.

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