In a quest to appreciate each of his daughter’s “stuffies” just as she does, Schoenemann was inspired to make a kind of visual encyclopedia to not only keep track of the many toys but to meet his daughter’s approval of the unique personalities she sees in them.
“The inspiration was my forgetfulness. My daughter loves her stuffed animals, therefore they are very important to our family, of course. After I got the business for forgetting a few of their names one too many times (on last count she had 137), I decided I should take them into the studio for some portraits.” Schoenemann says, speaking to PetaPixel.
With a background in cinematography and athleticism, Schoenemann has a long-held appreciation for what photography has allowed him to personally express and the atmosphere of community it fosters.
“Photography connected all the right dots, (and) allowed me to produce a higher quality of work and collaborate with some wonderful people,” he says.
Utilizing the medium as a means of deeper connection with his daughter and intrigued by the challenge of capturing the “personalities” of each stuffed animal — while appeasing a tough critic — Schoenemann approached the task of photographing her many toys just as he would when shooting live animal portraits. Using a simplistic background, and no props or distractions, the photographer simply just captured the observations and implemented input from his daughter.
“I could talk it up with fancy words but it’s just a simple project anyone can do. My daughter chose her favorites and the ones with the most expressive features, and we got shooting. No props. I wanted just the animal alone, removed from any distractions (similar to my regular animal work). They were shot as they are. Not fresh and new, but well loved.”
When peering into the eyes of one of the stuffed critters it’s easy to become increasingly enchanted by the subtle yet vivacious “spirit” and quirky aura captured in every one of Schoenemann’s shots, attributes that he also credits to the toy maker’s skills,
“The designers of these stuffed animals are very talented and did a great job creating them. All I had to do was find the right angle, light them well, and not mess up their work. There was hardly any post-processing except for removing some dust and errant strings. The background is as it was shot, shadows and all, and that was that. I encourage others to do the same with their kid’s toys. It’s tons of fun.” Schoenemann shares.
As for challenges, despite some slight trepidation from his daughter and a few undesirable subjects, the photographer was resolute.
“The biggest challenge was finding the proper angle to reveal their personality. Often they had to be pinned or posed, not unlike other work. Some had no personality or were difficult, and were kindly asked to leave (not unlike other work),” he continues.
“My daughter was a bit apprehensive about letting me shoot them, but once she saw their faces popping up on the monitor, she was all in. Oddly enough, their personalities do shine through, so the project was titled Anthropomorphism,” Schoenemann says. “The Nikon 60mm was optically great, but I did pine for smoother focus and was tempted to pick up the Zeiss 50mm macro.”
Other equipment Schoenemann uses for his other work, he expresses his affinity for Nikon and Zeiss Lenses.
“I use Nikon bodies, Zeiss lenses, and Einstein strobes. For most of my close work, I use the Milvus 100mm, but for the stuffies, I wanted less of a telephoto feel. Browsing Craigslist, I found an old medical Nikkor 60mm AF-D in like-new condition that caught my eye also, it’s super-glued into manual focus, so no one wanted it. I got it for $60 and decided to give it a go for the project. It worked very well,” he muses.
The results of Schoenemann’s series are a homage to photography and reality, rather than “pictures.”
“To me, a great photo is a genuine moment, captured and processed well, that reminds the viewer of the good times of life on earth. No fakery. No AI. I’m not interested in cartoons, filters, or fabrications. Hence in my mind, there’s a clear distinction between pictures and photography. We all have our faults, one of mine is my understanding of photography and its importance in capturing memorable moments. Time is short. I prefer to focus on what’s real. Who wants to remember a fake moment? Like Seinfeld said, ‘You don’t aspire to reach the nose.’”
The series also contributes to his desire to capture memorable moments that can be appreciated well into the future, moments that his daughter could foreseeably connect with.
“Most importantly, she loves the work, and when she eventually outgrows stuffed animals and the ones that don’t get saved are donated, we’ll be happy to have the memories. What started as a silly idea ended up quite nice, and when printed large on fine art paper, they take on a living, breathing, emotive quality. “
As for the response to the series, it has been positive. While Schoenemann simply enjoys the fun-loving nature of it, he does acknowledge and accepts that it won’t suit everyone’s tastes,
“The response has been wonderful. Friends and family love it, my daughter loves it and tells me the stuffies love it, too. Internet people probably won’t. People with kids like it. I’ve heard that it makes some want to photograph their kid’s toys more and that’s great to hear. It is always nice when your silly projects are enjoyed by others. And I understand why it could be totally lame to others. That’s how it goes.”
As Schoenemann moves on to other projects, he keeps his love of community and connection front in center in his life and ambitions.
“Go and hug your kids, tell them you love them, call your parents, apologize for your teenage years, and tell them you love them. We’re here now, with free will to make good choices or bad ones. Make good ones — like photographing what’s real and memorable.”
For more from Jared Schoenemann, make sure to visit his website
Image credits: Jared Schoenemann