Dan Schaumann, 30, is a singer-songwriter, traveler, and writer. But when he’s not doing these things, the native Australian and current Toronto resident is going to the bathroom a lot—to take pictures.
It all started as a laugh. He wanted to see how many likes he could get on Instagram by posting a picture of a toilet. But now, three years later, what once began as a social media joke now seems more and more like a sincere appreciation of the porcelain throne. Schaumann finds himself traveling the world and documenting his privy pics on his website Toilography.com.
Schaumann just wrapped up a trip scouting and snapping a selection of the best bathrooms our city has to offer. Chicago spoke with him about what exactly makes the commode so compelling. (Hopefully he washed his hands first.)
How many cities have you visited to photograph toilets?
About 25 cities around the world.
Do you find that the bathrooms in a city share something in common, some kind of character that reflects the city that they’re in?
I think there is some kind of commonality. Chicago, being a large metropolis, you get that grungy, gritty city street feel to the bathrooms. And a regional town—for example, I went to Montpelier, in Vermont, a few months ago, and the toilets there were very clean and pristine. Very well kept. Not very much graffiti at all. I do think the toilet reflects the city it’s in.
It seems like, at least in your Chicago selections, you seem to be attracted to these graffitied bathrooms. What is it about that quality that makes for a better bathroom or bathroom photo?
I guess I view the whole Toilography thing as a bit of an artistic project. It’s a lot more interesting when there’s something on that maybe detracts away from the toilet bowl itself. I just like the color of it, the humor, the thought and creative process that people go through to get the washrooms looking like this.
And what is it about the toilet that you find so photogenic?
It all kind of started as a joke. I never used to find them photogenic, I thought it was a bit of a laugh. And as I kind of progressed with the joke… I never really understand myself what I find so photogenic about them. I guess it’s the atmosphere of the washroom that I’m attracted to, and not just the toilets themselves. That’s why I was really excited to see all these graffitied washrooms in Chicago.
Do you make any money through this venture, or is it purely a passion project?
Absolutely no money at all. It’s purely passion. Surprising, isn’t it?
Has it ever happened where you’ll be taking a picture of a bathroom and someone has walked in on you?
That’s happened very rarely. I try to be as discreet as possible. And if I do have somebody walk in, I pretend I’m texting. Even if I’m in a weird position. People have walked in where it certainly looks like I’m taking a photo, but I just pretend I’m thumbing a text message. And I just ignore them. No one has ever called me out about taking a washroom photo, as far as I know.
What was the best, and worst, bathroom you saw in Chicago?
The best, I think, was Cole’s Bar. I think in general I think Cole’s Bar itself was one of the friendliest bars I went to. The bartender was so down-to-earth and friendly, I got talking to some local girls there, and had a really good time. And I just love the humor on the bathroom walls and just the way it was set up.
And I think the worst bathroom, and I say worst in that it was also, in a way, the best, was the Empty Bottle. It was literally one of the grungiest, dirtiest bathrooms I’ve ever been in in my life. But for that reason I loved it—it was that bad.
In general, what makes a great bathroom?
I don’t like a bathroom to be plain. There’s really got to be something about it that stands out. Whether it’s writing on the wall, an interesting layout of the tiles… It’s just got to be different from the standard white tiled bathrooms.
What can you learn about a city through its bathrooms?
I think you can learn a lot about the street culture of a city from its bathrooms. I think, just by looking at the kind of graffiti tags written on the walls, posters on the walls, humor in the graffiti, I think it gives you an in depth sense of what the city, or that particular part of the city, is like. The working class, and the street culture of the city.
Yeah, it’s like the bathroom wall was the original Internet message board.