Things were going pretty well for Susan Copich: She was getting work as a commercial actress, studying photography on the side, and living in Manhattan with her husband and two daughters. But then her agent stopped calling, and things seemed less than ideal. Her marriage “no longer felt shiny,” her kids seemed to have grown up overnight, and she felt “irrelevant” and middle aged. More importantly, she realized, she was “missing from every family photo.”
Copich decided to correct that, and to investigate her inner, darker thoughts about life as a mother and wife in her series, “Domestic Life,” which will be on display at Umbrella Arts Gallery in New York City starting Nov. 5.
“If you’ve met me, I have a very seemingly sunny disposition, but I have a whole interior world where at different times I’ve felt depression and angst. For many years, I put it in a little ball, and I decided to just explore it this time. It’s been so fun to bring those feelings out and give them light,” she said.
Copich had been studying the work of the conceptual photographer Cindy Sherman in her photography class, and her influence is clear in “Domestic Bliss”: Copich, like Sherman, puts the lens on herself, and dons makeup and costumes to assume a character.
Unlike Sherman, Copich places other people in her frame: Her daughters have appeared in almost every image. “I’ve seen them grow up inside of the lens. But it’s difficult to get them motivated,” she said. “I have this whole setup and we’re ready to go and three shots in they’re like, ‘Are we done yet?’ ”
Rife as they are with quiet desperation and looming violence, Copich’s images can seem dour, even alarming. But Copich emphasizes that humor is important to the series, as it provides a point of entry for people to access its deeper themes. And while the situations in her photos are not meant to literally represent moments from her life, Copich hopes her viewers won’t write them off as pure fiction.
“Each image I create is a true reflection of me—not necessarily the content, but the actual slow burn experience,” she said via email. “I think this is what I am most proud of, that when people experience my work there is a layered reaction and journey and if you give it time all these layers of emotion and character and conflict are revealed and not just the rich underbelly stuff, but the initial reaction of laughter, shock and commercialism that first appear—it is all me.”