Suzy Lake: Innovative Professor and One of Canada's Most Important Photographers


Suzy Lake is a Canadian artist who taught at various universities for 40 years, including the University of Guelph, where she became a Professor Emerita in 2008. She is celebrated for being among the first female artists to explore themes of identity and gender through photography, performances, and video, during the male-dominated art scene of the 1970s. Using her own body as her subject, Lake reveals societal influences on ideas of self and critiques white heteronormative femininity as a commodity.


Lake co-founded projects such as Véhicule Art Inc. (Montreal, 1972), a "non-profit and non-political centre driected by and for artists" and the Toronto Photographers Workshop (Toronto, 1977), an "artist-run centre dedicated to exhibiting underrepresented artistic and curatorial practices that push the boundaries of lens-based work." These galleries gave Lake and her contemporaries space during a time when art movements, such as reductive minimalism, centred male artists at the forefront of the art world. Véhicule Art Inc. and Gallery TPW were among the first artist-run galleries in Canada.


Lake joined the University of Guelph in 1988, where she established the photography and extended media streams of study. Devoted to traditional film media and to student learning, Lake would bring her own photographic enlarger on the bus from Toronto to Guelph to ensure students were taught the fundamentals of analogue photography.


In her sequential photographic series titled Imitations of the Self (1973/2012), Lake applies cosmetics on top of white face paint, in reference point to the artificial performance of gender and to subvert the constructed nature of racialized identity. In her performances titled Choreographed Puppets #4.5 (1976), Lake's full body is attached to a scoffold; like a marionette, her limbs are controlled by others. Through the investigation of gendered power dynamics, Lake's imagery creates discomfort and empathy, encouraging viewers to consider their own identities. Modes of confrontation, such that the individual is subject to societal forces and restraints, have been used by Lake throughout her career. More recent works, such as Pluck #1 (2001), focus on the aging female body and pictorialize taboos of femininity, such as loss of estrogen and the growth of facial hear.


In the early 2000s, Lake's work began to circulate widely, including in these major, touring exhibitions: WACK: Art and the Feminist Revolution (LA MOCA, 2007-08), Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-80 (University of Toronto Art Centre, 2010), Introducing Suzy Lake (Art Gallery of Ontario, 2014), Clocks for Seeing: Photography, Time and Motion (National Gallery of Canada, 2015), and The Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s (Vienna, 2016-2018).


In 2004, Lake was appointed to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts. She is the recipient of multiple noteworthy awards, including: The Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts (National Gallery of Canada, 2016), CONTACT Scotiabank Photography Award (Ryerson Image Center, 2016), Mois de la Photo (Dazibao Publication Prize, 2013), and Visual Arts Award (Greater Toronto Arts Foundation, 1997). She is cited by artists, including Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, as a major influence on their practice.


Suzy Lake lives and works in Toronto, Ontario. 

Colour photo of Suzy Lake's Imitation of Myself #2. 1973. The artwork appears to be several images showing a timeline of Suzy Lake putting white makeup on her face.

Imitation of Myself #2, 1973.  It shows a woman applying make-up in many different frames.  



Black and white photo of Choreographed Puppet #4.5 by Suzy Lake. This artwork depicts a body form suspended by wires, imitating that of a puppet. The background appears to be some sort fo room with painted bricks similar to that of the inside of a school.

Choreographed Puppet #4.5, 1976.  This is a piece of art by Lake.  it is black and white.  The woman in the photo is being manipulated like a puppet.



Colour photo of feminine appearing person plucking a hair on their chin. They are wearing lipstick and in the top left corner their hair can be seen curled.

Pluck #1, 2001.  Artwork by Lake.  It shows the bottom half of a woman's face.  She is wearing lipstick and plucking a hair on her chin.