Red hot and sassy,
Howard Schatz's fashion
and glamour shots are
a feast for the senses
Poised behind his own orderly glass and bleached maple desk-with a computer at his fingertips, a wall of photography books before him, a bulletin board plastered with images that inspire and provoke him at his right-Schatz tolerates few disturbances during our one and one-half hour interview, despite the fact a dance club scene is being readied down the hall for a Gear magazine shoot the next day. His years as a physician have endowed him with a fine "bedside manner," or office manner, as it were.
Conversation begins with the most obvious inquiry: How did Schatz, once a retinal surgeon, make the leap to fashion and beauty photography?
"My mother had always wanted my brother and me to be physicians, have nice long, rich lives, be somebody, and do something worthwhile," he explains. "We both became doctors, and had long, rewarding careers. But all those years what I really wanted was art. By 1986, I was giving a lot to photography. Call it kismet or coincidence, I met and married Beverly Ornstein the next year. Our marriage gave me the strength and support I needed to pursue my childhood dream.
"Soon I began getting assignments, which I pursued passionately on my days off. In 1994, we received a call from an art director to 'come to New York and make a picture for us.'" That's all they needed to hear. Schatz took sabbatical, they moved to New York, and his medical practice was eclipsed by his new old passion.
More than a play on words, Schatz does seem to have a clear view of his artistic mission. "My obsession is to find that one perfect image that hasn't been shot." Chances are he'll find it, too. "Even when I sleep I dream of images. I have a drawer full of ideas. Some will succeed, most will never see the light of day. Everything stimulates images in me. Music, TV, ads, books, posters, life. My mind never rests."
Throughout his photography career, Schatz has drawn inspiration from the human form. His latest book, NudeBodyNude, HarperCollins Publishers, 2000, explores the textures, shapes, and dimensions of the human body. His earlier published works travel similar paths and include Gifted Woman, Seeing Red: The Rapture of Redheads, WaterDance, Homeless: Portraits of Americans in Hard Times, Newborn, Passion & Line: Photographs of Dancers, Pool Light, The Virtuoso, and Body Knots.
To stay on top of all his projects, Schatz digitizes and files each and every image he shoots. Thanks to an elegant database program, he can retrieve any current or archived project or image. He's networked to his production staff and crew so they can all read from the same page at the push of a button.
Schatz masterfully manipulates virtually all his scanned images. Many of his most memorable shots are composites achieved through Photoshop. And while he reaches for his Kodak DC4800 digital camera to test a set for an upcoming shoot, at this juncture, he still favors traditional film cameras for image capture: the Hasselblad ELX and XPan, Fuji 645, and his Nikonus RS-"the best underwater camera ever made"-for his underwater photography. Lately he's also using the Leaf/Cantare digital back for his Hasselblad.
But equipment and technology will always take a back seat to conceptualization. "No image worth shooting can be created without a plan. It takes preparation, focus, and a lot of hard work. Truly great images don't just happen; it's all in the details. An image is only as great as its weakest link."
His surreal underwater images are a prime example. Each one is actually shot underwater in the pool at his San Francisco home. The models, many of whom are dancers or athletes, submerge, holding their breath for 30 seconds at a clip, all the while resisting their natural buoyancy. While Schatz is down there shooting away on his Nikonus, wearing weights around his waist to anchor him, he has to know precisely what he's after.
And just how do the models pose naturally underwater? "While you hold your breath, no water flows in, it just doesn't," Schatz explains. "Once you take a breath, there's sort of a vacuum effect and water rushes in. So each shot we take begins with a deep breath above water, then we all descend together."