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Nothing is inhuman

It is a rare skill to find a life essence in the inanimate, but Eberhard Schuy’s gift for deep observation infuses still life with grace and humanity.
A monochrome image of a roll of toilet paper hanging on a wooden plunger stuck to a freestanding white panel. Beside it, bottom left is another plunger, similarly attached to a freestanding white panel. © Eberhard Schuy
Eberhard Schuy and Cecilie Harris

Written by Eberhard Schuy and Cecilie Harris

“Nothing is inhuman. No object can be devoid of humanity,” says Canon Ambassador Eberhard Schuy, whose still life photography is almost mystical in that he realises his vision almost completely without post-production intervention. It is a rare skill indeed to find a life essence in the inanimate, but Eberhard’s near-infinite attention to detail connects him with his subject, extract its inner personality and translates this using traditional methods such as props and filters.

“People rarely play a special role in my photography, and I have often asked myself why. It has to do with a special kind of reticence that used to make it impossible for me to communicate with people. It was not until I was about 28 years old that I was able to get rid of this with special training. I don't disagree if you describe me as reflective, subtle and with a quiet sense of humour. I am aware that I am an introvert and extremely fascinated by many things around me, and I find it an advantage to have the gift of silent observation, perceiving and learning. Sometimes this is exactly how an image is formed. When I was not speaking, I used the time to observe very intensely, seeing the human and the not-so-obvious with a deep sensitivity. This is also how I discovered the personalities that can be found in designed objects, which are hardly noticed in everyday life.

Left: a quote that reads: “People are fascinating and every object that surrounds them says something about their personality. This is where I find the inspiration for my work.” On the right, a black and white portrait of Eberhard Schuy, who wears glasses and a black t-shirt.

Image courtesy of ©John McDermott

I develop an intimate feeling for almost everything that I am allowed to photograph, and this sensitivity gives all objects a special meaning. If you don't develop an honest feeling for what you want to photograph, you shouldn't pick up a camera. The final image is ultimately just the culmination of an individual photographic process, so, I photograph objects with a mindfulness – you could almost describe it as a kind of love, that many might think you can only feel for people. Everything I photograph has a human personality and is often representative of special people. Yet, I rarely photograph people. But when I do, I never portray them. Instead, they are bodies without personality, which stand for what is created by human hands. I'm aware that sounds pretty spooky and you might think I have something against people – don't worry, I like them a lot. People are fascinating and every object that surrounds them says something about their personality. This is where I find the inspiration for my work.

What object is next to you right now? A cup of coffee? A pen? A glass of water? Let’s assume it's the glass. Since it doesn't grow on a tree, it had to be made. Who chose this type of glass? Why? If the size and diameter are not common, what are the reasons? What design knowledge was applied in this creation? You see, nothing about the glass is random. It is the result of considered human action, and it is important to transfer these human influences into the picture. For example, I took this image of toilet paper during the Covid pandemic, when I wasn't able to work for clients. We all remember the great shortage of toilet paper. People could be seen in supermarket buying dozens of packs – even taking packs from other customer’s shopping carts. When I heard that some people were hoarding over a hundred of the 24-packs in their garages, I had the idea of dedicating a picture to the ‘new gold’. If I created a museum installation with toilet paper, it would look something like this.

A monochrome image of a roll of toilet paper hanging on a wooden plunger stuck to a freestanding white panel. Beside it, bottom left is another plunger, similarly attached to a freestanding white panel. © Eberhard Schuy

© Eberhard Schuy

A lot of people think I'm creative, maybe the perspective I describe is a reason for that. Certainly, my creativity arises from curiosity, neutrality and a fascination for the foreign. It is all based on the personality that is consciously integrated into the individual work. For me, every inspiration comes from a thought or a vague idea. Anything and everything can inspire us if we let things come to us with an open mind. When we look for inspiration, we should look where we think we won't find it. Only in this way do we challenge ourselves not to look for the usual solutions in the obvious places.

This Autumn, I have two new books being released. In one of them, 'Kreativ Hingerotzt', I write about the entry into professional creativity, independent of photography. Creativity in business means being able to deal with ideas intentionally and completely regenerate them. Commercial creativity requires knowledge that can be used to understand how to generate new approaches. With the help of some studies and many personal thoughts, we can gain clarity about inspiration and blockages in creativity. With my pictures, I immerse myself in a world of images that lead to my own reflections, and they offer the opportunity for others to see something in a different form. However, it’s not important to me to reach as many people as possible. I just want to reach those who are curious about other perspectives and whose perspectives I can be curious about.”

Find out more about the work of Canon Ambassador Eberhard Schuy.

Eberhard Schuy and Cecilie Harris

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