Sue Barr Creates Suburban Bliss

March 1, 2012

By Barbara Goldman

© Sue Barr

Mimi James in  George Hurrell-styled portraiture.

Award-winning photographer Sue Barr has been photographing kids, babies, family portraits and lifestyle for years.  But Barr is more than just kids and lifestyle. Recently she started a blog Suburban Bliss  that is about empowering American mothers and getting them to get out of their sweats, out of the mini-vans and show just how beautiful and glamorous they can be.

For Barr, Suburban Bliss has become an outlet for creativity and humor and to show her versatility and creativity. The only similarity between her well-known lifestyle work and Suburban Bliss is that both show real people—no models, actors or casting agencies used.

Heavily influenced and inspired by theater and such classic and groundbreaking movies from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s as Blow-Up (1966),What’s New Pussycat? (1965), Belle Du Jour (1967) and Shampoo (1975), Barr likes to take and bring her glamour from an older Hollywood to her suburban moms.

Women book shoots with Barr, and she dresses them and creates makeup, hair and wardrobe for the celebrity of choice. She transforms these women with style and fashion into their favorite Hollywood icons.  The imagery created can be used as gifts for husbands, posted on Facebook pages or blogs or even used to help promote businesses. More importantly, the session acts as a great escape and a good time, while contributing to an artistic endeavor for Barr. As Barr likes to put it, “in the midst of suburban chaos, she captures a moment of bliss.”  

She has tackled the Laugh-In theme with a Goldie Hawn makeover.  Barr photographed her friend Kelly Silver, founder of an entertainment company and the suburban mom of two little girls, as the goofy and lovable ‘60s flower child.  Dressed in a bikini, with “Sock It To Me” body painting by Ann Marie Bontempo  a blonde hairdo by gifted stylist Christine at Salon Concrete . Silver looked very groovy as Goldie Hawn from the hit TV show.

In another Hollywood glam session, Barr photographed friend Mimi James, suburban mother of three and works as a personal stylist to women in the neighborhood.   James has a love of celebrity photos from the 1930s and ‘40s.  With that in mind, Barr and James came up with the idea of a portrait in the style of George Hurrell.  Hurrell was a master of glamour photography during Hollywood’s Golden Age, photographing such stars as Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Cark Gable, James Cagney, Carole Lombard, Rita Hayworth and so many other fabulous celebrities of that time.  He created an idealized style of beauty with his striking black and white portraiture that was used to promote these stars and their movies to fans.  He shot on huge sound stages with large crews and lots of strobes, gobos and spot lights to achieve a very innovative and highly theatrical look.

For Barr this type of shoot was a bit outside of her comfort level, because she is primarily a natural, lifestyle daylight shooter.  But she also loves a challenge and this was a way to show off her imagery and find a new voice. Both photographer and subject also understood the need for great hair and make-up to pull off the Hurrell effect.  Barr’s solution for make-up was the local Mac store. James already had great cheek bones and the powder, eyelashes and beautiful red lips were the easy part. 

To get that old glamorous studio look Barr used a chaise, some white sheets, a black table cloth, a kitchen step stool and a zebra throw.  For definition on the hair, Barr’s assistant crouched into addressing room and reflected off the strobe. As for the fashion choices, James brought a selection of vintage outfits from her private collection and took direction without fuss.  Barr accomplished her goal James and made the photographic transformation of a suburban mom and housewife into a Hurrell-like Hollywood glamour queen. 

There were not as many black icons in movies that existed before the1980s.  But a favorite from the 1970s was Foxy Brown.  Foxy Brown was a blaxploitation film that starred Pam Grier as a “whole lot of woman” seeking revenge on and battling despicable villains of a drug syndicate. Foxy Brown was sexy, intelligent, upheld justice and became a symbol of empowerment for all women.  Barr found her Foxy Brown in Alexis Houston, a singer/songwriter with a studio in New York City.  Houston is the girlfriend of a local tennis pro in the suburbs and looks after his two children since their own mother died a few years ago. Houston was made ready for her close up as Foxy Brown. For Barr’s shoot, Houston wore an Afro wig styled for the period again by Christine of Salon Concrete, used her own wardrobe and did her own makeup and was transformed into the daring and beautiful Foxy Brown.

Barr continues to work on new icons for her Suburban Bliss project. Next up are possibly Audrey Hepburn and Bollywood sessions.  You can see Sue Barr’s commercial work of natural lifestyle and kids’ photography on her site at and catch up on her latest  Suburban Bliss creations on her blog.  Here’s looking at you, kid!


 Suburban Bliss Kelly Silver as Goldie Hawn


Suburban Bliss Alexis Houston as Foxy Brown

Mimi horiz

Suburban Bliss Mimi James as George Hurrell-styled portraiture