Photographer Sunny Suits Talks Nico, Cinema, Avenue D, and Paris

Borrowing its title from a Philippe Garrel flick, Sunny Suits's solo currently up at the Fred Snitzer Gallery in Wynwood, transports viewers into the private world of her friends and lovers.

Her photos also bring to mind Nan Goldin's iconic visual diaries even though Suits, who once worked with the famous artist, shied from answering our questions about their connection.

And, not unlike the work of Garrel, Cassavetes, or even Fassbinder, her informal snaps feature the same characters making regular appearances. She levels an unflinching gaze on her subjects, seeming to freeze fleeting moments of shared intimacy before they are lost.

We tracked Suits down by phone in Paris. She spoke about what inspires her work, her relationships with her subjects, her passion for celluloid, and her preference for the City of Lights over the Big Apple.

New Times: Your work seems cinematic in nature. Are you consciously directing your subjects? Are the photos staged?
Sunny Suits:
I think this must come from overdosing on films growing up. My sister worked at a movie theatre and I would spend the summer indoors watching movies either at that theatre or in front of the television, but no, nothing is staged in my work at all.

The show takes its name from a Phillipe Garrel movie about young lovers during the student uprisings and trade union revolts in Paris during 1968 and 1969. How did the movie influence you?
It wasn't so much this exact film but more of Garrel's approach to film in general. He works from his own life and often draws from his relationship and the years he spent with Nico and friends from the Zanzibar group. He cast his father Maurice when he was alive and his son Louis and Louis's mother Brigitte in his films and of course Nico, who I had been listening to all spring.

When it came time to get the show together, I wanted to work on a sort of theme so I could at least narrow down an edit of photos. Philippe is in his head though and I think film is a sort of therapy for him. So even though I use what is most available to me to work with, it's more sensual than cerebral. In the end I wanted something especially for Miami, hot and sensual.

Some of your work at Snitzer is presented together as if suggesting vignettes or a strip of celluloid. Are you trying to set up a level of tension between the images?
I did with this show yes. I want to engage the viewer as much as possible. I want to invite everyone into this moment. So even though the photos individually can stand alone they change meaning or sentiment when placed with one or two other photos. Building stories with photos instead of words.

You present your photos in a smaller than usual format typical of most gallery shows. This heightens the notions of intimacy it feels. Also the sense of voyeurism is more palpable. Can you comment on this?
I initially wanted them larger when I started printing but I also didn't want to hit someone over the head with something that is very personal for me. I think there is a time and place for grandeur but I'm not there yet.

Your photos are suffused with the shadows of an uncommonly affecting tenderness. How close a relationship do you have with your subjects?
You don't see much of that at the moment in art -- love or tenderness. I am or at least have been pretty close with almost everyone in my photos, some more than others. Some relationships last and some haven't. Some I miss and some I don't.

The picture I started to form the show around was the photo of Molly dancing on New Year's morning. This is 'La Dolce Vita' for me. We used to share this huge apartment with three other people in Paris. And I came home and everyone was dancing in the living room. She reminded me of Anita Ekberg. There's Lucien of course and there's Ian. He was the first person I took a photo of.

Works like Memorial on My Doorstep, shot in New York, exude a hermetic force that makes one wonder about the back story. What happened there?
I lived in Alphabet City for about 10 years. When someone dies in the neighborhood, a memorial goes straight up, either flowers and candles or often mural like in many Latin communities. I bet Miami is full of them. I can't recall exactly what happened, but the cops had shot and killed someone from the neighborhood. I keep meaning to research this photo more. It reminds me of Avenue D a lot. I love that avenue no matter how much I hate it.

Where did you grow up? Do you prefer living in Paris to New York?
I grew up in California, but I dropped out of school and left it to travel and eventually ended up in New York. New York and I changed in different ways and after 10 years, I wanted to move to Europe. London for a few years and now Paris. Paris and I are fighting right now, but I think we'll work it out. Sometimes I want to get lost deeper into Europe and sometimes I just miss how easy it is in the States speaking my own language. I always miss the American optimism.

What are your plans after the Snitzer show?
I don't know but I want to get back to Miami and to the botanicas.

"Regular Lovers" is on view through October 6 at Fredric Snitzer Gallery (2247 NW First Pl., Miami). Admission is free. Call 305-448-8976 or visit
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