Discovering Samuel Ryde’s Hand Dryers

Blueprint discovers Samuel Ryde's delightful new book, Hand Dryers, and the story behind the images

When we first decided to feature Samuel Ryde’s book Hand Dryers (Unicorn, 2020), washing hands wasn’t quite the focus it has become over recent months. So now this primarily pictorial book has an extra layer of significance to it.

It all began as an off-the-cuff personal response to a knackered hand dryer Ryde saw in a curry house: ‘I was shocked at how something that is so familiar and universal and can have so many variants, can regularly be so useless, because it’s often been there for a long time and doesn’t work very well. Then I saw one on a wall in Edinburgh and it had “not working” on it and I thought, isn’t it funny that they don’t want to fix it, but want to let you know it’s not working — its only mission in life has been taken away from it.’

So he whipped out his iPhone and took a picture. Then he took some more, then more. It became so that people would be grabbing his phone to look at the latest snaps and the idea began to formalise for him. A dedicated Instagram account (@handdryers) was established. ‘The subject is the same and the composition is now the same, but the scene changes and so it becomes a canvas showing the personality of the bar or the people who use it,’ says Ryde. ‘The hand dryers become more humanised and you feel their story. They represent so many different things without people realising it.’

In answer to my question of whether the first thing he does on entering any establishment now is head for the toilets, his answer is a resounding ‘yes’ — and hence he ended up with a body of work. When he saw others beginning to copy his Instagram, he decided he should do something with the images. He had a blad (a demo version of what a book might look like) made up and hawked it around The London Book Fair, leaving with a deal with visual arts and cultural history publisher Unicorn by the end of the day.

When work began on the book he found a number of the images weren’t up to scratch, so progressed from his phone to digital SLRs (he’s on his third now) and went back and retook some of the key shots, as far away as New York. This was also to get better quality prints for an exhibition of the work. Current events have put the kibosh on the exhibition for the moment, but the book is now out, complete with a foreword by James Dyson, inventor of the world’s noisiest hand dryer.

All images: Samual Ryde

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