Photographer Daniel Schumann first went to St. Francis Hospice near Dusseldorf, Germany, in order to fulfill the country’s civil service requirement. “Until a couple of years ago," he explains in an email, “we had to do either military service or civil service in Germany.” What began as mandatory community service turned into a new view of the human experience and, later, an artistic pursuit: Schumann returned to St. Francis for a year-long photo project that would eventually satisfy both his artistic drive and his personal curiosity surrounding death.
He befriended several of the residents at the hospice and got their permission to photograph them throughout their stay, for either “personal or societal” reasons, Schumann explains: Some wished to have professional photographs to show their loved ones, while others supported Schumann’s mission to offer an alternative image of aging and death. “Seven out of the nine people shown in the [project] died during the project and are also portrayed after death,” he tells us, adding that “taking pictures of the dead has become a taboo, [but] dead people are still people.”
The photos depict the residents as they were before and after death. The effect is solemn, yet tranquil. And since death and dying lay at the heart of Schumann’s entire project, something about his subjects’ experience will always remain unknown to his viewer.
Schumann is quick to recognise that this aspect of his photos — the strangeness of death — can make people uncomfortable. But that does not stop him from showing them: "I’m documenting a story that keeps being written after the end of my project," he explains. "People come, people go. Some stay longer, others shorter. The course [is] never straight.”
The project, entitled Purple, Brown, Grey, White, and Black — Life in Death, is available for purchase here. Click ahead to view Schumann’s photographs and read more of his reflections on living and dying in hospice care.