By Jim Colton
What's your Plan B? A question we hear more and more every day as our industry suffers through its economic metamorphosis. Companies are downsizing and laying off employees including veterans with thirty or more years at the same organization. So many of our colleagues are now searching for alternate sources of income, new jobs and for some, even new careers outside the realm of journalism. I recently read a story about a photographer and a graphic designer (that were married and working at the same newspaper) that started a food cart business serving lobster rolls in Colorado!
But what if your Plan B was voluntary...not forced upon you by economic downturn...but fed by a burning desire for creativity? What if you decided, after years of being very successful, gainfully employed and making a handsome salary, that you wanted to do something else? What if you were someone, say, like Derek Jeter, who at the peak of his career, decided to hang up his cleats...and become a photographer? Well, that's exactly what Howard Schatz decided to do!
Schatz was a preeminent Retina Specialist. He conducted scientific research, wrote textbooks and peer-review articles and taught ophthalmologists and residents as a Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. He conducted workshops and lectured at conferences worldwide and was the Director of the Retina Research Fund at St. Mary's Hospital Medical Center in San Francisco. He was an accomplished researcher, professor, lecturer and leading practitioner at the top of his game.
But in 1995, at the age of 54, he decided to give all that up to pursue his dream...to make photographs; or in his words, "Make images that surprise and delight me!" Fast forward almost twenty years later, and he is doing exactly that...as well as delighting everyone else with his work. Like a fine surgeon, his work is meticulous. His attention to detail is exact, his lighting is precise and his sense of composition and graphics are exceptional!
And the recognition that he received as a doctor, he is also receiving as a photographer. His work is frequently featured in publications such as TIME, Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair, Vogue, GQ and the New Yorker to name a few. His commercial work has included clients like Ralph Lauren, Nike, Sony, AT&T and Mercedes-Benz among others. He has received photographic awards from PDN, Communication Arts, American Photo, World Press Photo, Graphis and a litany of others.
He is also one of the kindest, gentlest and giving human beings I have ever had the privilege to know. His bedside manner has served him well in our industry. On the eve of the publication of his latest book: "SCHATZ Images: 25 Years," published by Glitterati, zPhotoJournal makes a house call on the good doctor, Howard Schatz.
Jim Colton: Photography wasn't your first career please tell us a little about your early years and your first career.
Howard Schatz: From the time I could understand language I was programmed, as was my brother, to become a physician. My mother was brilliant but was not allowed to go to college having come from a powerful patriarchal culture. She was determined that her children would "become somebody." Art teachers told my mother that there was something special, she said, "What do they know? They're art teachers for God sakes. You're going to become a physician!"
And I did…as did my brother.
As a retinal surgeon/specialist, I took care of people with blinding retinal problems. I also conducted scientific research, wrote scientific peer-review articles and textbooks and taught ophthalmologists and residents at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco; I also conducted workshops and lectured in conferences as well as national and international symposia. My career as a physician was meaningful, rich with challenge and experience and phenomenally satisfying. But I had another burning desire…to make photographs.
I have owned a camera and have taken pictures ever since I was in medical school. I carried my camera everywhere and photographed everything that interested me. In 1987 when my children were off to college, I felt I could devote one weekend day per week to learning all that I could about photography. I converted our dining room into a studio and bought used lighting equipment and cameras and learned how to make images. I spent every Saturday doing something photographic; either making pictures or studying photographs, going to galleries and museums, buying books and learning everything I could.
JC: Did your training as a physician help you as a photographer? Are there commonalities between the two?
HS: I have learned so many things in medicine that have helped me as a photographer. I learned how to insure that when a patient who was frightened about losing their vision…feel upon meeting me…that they came to the right doctor. This helps me a great deal with portraiture. As a retinal surgeon I learned about attention to the most minute of details; how to carefully prepare and how to navigate all sorts of challenges. And, as a scientist I learned about methodology; how to study and solve problems…changing one variable at a time…and making careful detailed notation. All of those things help tremendously with studio shoots.
Medicine, on the other hand, is so totally different from photography. In medicine it’s about getting it right, making the exact diagnosis and performing surgery to perfection! A one micron mistake can result in a blind eye. Creating an imaginative and wonderful photograph is all about trying things…letting the unexpected happen…and exploring unusual possibilities. With artistic pursuits…mistakes can often make miracles; mistakes in medicine…can be disastrous.
It can be wild, crazy, fun…and all without fear. What’s the worst that can happen? I make a lousy photograph. Not so awful. As a result of my being a photographer, I have become a different person…less rigid…and open to all possibilities. It is a freeing existence.
JC: Who or what have been some of your greatest influences, photographic or otherwise?
HS: From the time I had decided to devote a day a week to photography I have continued to buy and study photography books. I have a library of well over 2000 books. To this day my criteria for purchasing photography books are; if the photographer is well known, “important” and respected; a friend of mine, or if there is something in the book that is new, inspiring or fantastic. Every book has influenced me in some way and therefore I have been inspired by hundreds of photographers.
Actually, I think everything influences and ought to influence photographers; walking the streets, reading books, going to movies, theater, dance, sporting events, etc. I feel that in any endeavor in life it is important for one to be a scholar, to know what others have done, how they think, to be well-read, to study tenaciously, and forever.
JC: You have a keen appreciation of the human form. We see that in your books Body Knots, Nude Body Nude and even Athlete. Why does the body, in all shapes and forms, intrigue you?
HS: I am fascinated by the human form...intrigued, captivated, even pre-occupied. In my latest book I wrote, "The human body is an inexhaustible source of interest for me. My studies of men mostly have to do with the musculoskeletal system; with women, sensuality; and with pairs, graphic composition and a sense of relationship."
I'd add that through my medical education, I've become very comfortable with the body and I am very comfortable directing subjects, models, dancers and athletes. People have written that it is courageous of me, but I think the fearlessness is just pure comfort.
JC: So much of your work is superbly lit. How did you learn about lighting?
HS: As a pre-med in college, I minored in physics, so learning about lenses and light for photography came easy to me. I use my studio as a research lab and spend time studying lighting and making notes. I’ve tested every kind of lighting I could imagine. I constantly study the photographs of others and attempt to learn how they lit their images. The lessons for lighting are infinite…and I am still learning.
JC: You have an uncanny ability of making your subjects feel at ease...which is quite visible in your "Caught in the Act" work. What's the most important thing to remember when it comes to "breaking the ice" during a portrait shoot?
HS: As I mentioned, having been a physician has aided me immensely in relating to people. Also, I believe a pre-shoot interview where I show sincere interest in a subject while allowing them to see that I am respectful, sensitive and generous. These things very much contribute to developing trust and emotional comfort and therefore, I am allowed to ask for just about anything.
JC: Between editorial and commercial/advertising, which do you prefer and why? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each?
HS: I photograph to surprise and delight---myself. This is my modus. I want to explore everything I can that is of interest to me…that I wonder about. Commercial work provides income for my personal work. Doing commercial work is behaving like a contractor hired to fulfill someone else's dreams. Essentially, when doing advertising assignments, I am a fine craftsman, a technician, creating something in the imagination of the art director. As for editorial work…I enjoy it very much if I'm allowed to explore things that are new to me. If I'm asked to repeat something I’ve done already, I generally will turn down the offer. Some photo editors are very tight and it’s a lot like commercial work. Some ask me to surprise or shock them---THAT is ideal!
JC: Your latest book, "SCHATZ Images: 25 Years," published by Glitterati, (see link below) will be made available in the spring of 2015. What can viewers expect from this book?
HS: I have had the supreme good fortune to have published 20 books. Two years ago, the great book publisher, Marta Hallett, of Glitterati Inc., asked if I would edit all my work for the purpose of publishing a 25-year retrospective of my work. I thought about it a long time, asking myself, “What for? Why go through all that work? Why look back? Won’t it get in the way of my furthering my desire to make new images?” Either I was curious to see what I’d find looking back or my ego won out over good sense. I decided to do it.
I am aware that no artist can “see” his or her work without a significant emotional bias, so it was important to hire a highly skilled, talented and respected photo editor who would be rigidly honest and see the work for what it was; of value or not. At about this time, Steve Fine became available. He was once the Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated and has had much experience not only in sports but in most areas of contemporary photography. I have great respect for him and have always been ultimately impressed with his work. Also, he is purely honest, has no need to soften opinion, and is a really smart and fun person. It was like a magic blessing that he could do this and start when I needed to start. I said to Steve, “Find any gems we’ve missed and veto any images that you do not feel are terrific.”
We embarked on a full-time, eight-month editing effort evaluating a total of four million images from 40 separate photographic projects! Each of us, Steve, my wife Beverly Ornstein (who runs our business and does everything short of pressing the shutter) and I looked at every image. No image is included that any one of us thought did not belong. It was a fantastic experience working with Steve; as a result we have developed a mutually respectful and loving relationship.
The final edit yielded 1083 images from 32 separate projects. I then spent the next four months working alongside the designer, Alex Spacher, Creative Director/Designer of Departures magazine. The work will be published as an elegant and luxurious two book boxed set; each book has 430 pages for a total of 860 pages. We also helped the publisher by designing a website for the book. I hope all your readers will click on it. (See link below)
JC: What are you the most proud of about this compilation?
HS: The process of editing all my work was a rich and joyful journey. I’ve learned about who I am, what moves me and how I’ve changed and grown. And I’ve learned a great deal from Steve Fine…he had revealing insight into what I’ve done. The entire experience has been wonderful and I am totally psyched about what we’ve produced. I wanted the book to have special materials; the finest paper, a modern feel and elegance. Our publisher found a fantastic printer in Slovenia who “got it” completely. Over the last six months, we have worked with Miha Modec of the Gorenjski Printing Company in Kranj, Slovenia. We looked after every detail and solved every construction and printing problem that faced us. The two books come in a well-constructed firm box so that the covers (made of a special pliable material) could be soft and can lie readily and conveniently in one’s lap.
JC: I know this is like asking a parent to choose a favorite child, but out of your 20+ books, do you have a favorite?
HS: Each project is about the joy of the journey rather than the book. Books are great calling cards, they have brought us work. But the great satisfaction is in the challenge of making images that surprise and delight me.
JC: What’s next on the horizon for Howard Schatz?
HS: This is a very seductive question because it contains a dangerous path; full of pitfalls and potential embarrassment for one to answer. There are many projects that people are “working on” that never come to fruition. One gets false bragging rights saying what they are “going to do” before they do it. An idea is one thing; completing it is totally different. Ideas are easy; producing something is very difficult and requires all sorts of skills and relentless determination. This I know. My advice to anyone who desires to do something big is: Keep your mouth shut and do it! Then you can say, “Look, see what I’ve done!”
JC: As a seasoned vet, what advice would you give to the young ambitious photographer that may want to follow in your footsteps?
HS: Build a vast visual data bank so that when you look through your camera you will recognize that what you are seeing has been done before. And then you will force yourself to see it uniquely. Do this by studying, taking notes, collecting images that inspire. With billions of images available on the internet, you can make screen shots of images that interest, inspire or teach you. Then catalogue them in folders. I have 1000’s of images in dozens of categories like motion, dance, beauty, fashion, portraiture, sports (even subdivided into different sports), lighting, night shoots, landscape, architecture, still life, etc. And I study lots and lots of books and magazines; including all the visual arts in addition to photography like art, graphic design, interior design, architecture, illustration, sculpture, etc. Our visual data bank is constantly falling out (i.e. we forget). So this effort of “knowing” what imagery exists is a life-long endeavor.
JC: Do you have any last thoughts you'd like to share with our audience about photography, the state of our industry, your philosophy or life in general?
HS: We all have ups and downs, busy times and slow, productive times and not. In the past, when I had down times and became worried that everyone forgot who I was, I once said to my wife, “Beverly, you know, I could make some stock images that we can sell and earn some income.” She, so wisely, reassuringly and lovingly said, “Do what you love. Photograph what moves you. Let me worry about the business.” It is the best thing that I have ever heard.
SCHATZ Images: 25 Years: http://schatzimages25years-glitterati.com/
SCHATZ Images: 25 Years testimonials: http://schatzimages25years-glitterati.com/pages/testimonials
Howard Schatz website: http://www.howardschatz.com/
DO YOU HAVE A STORY YOU THINK IS A GOOD CANDIDATE FOR ZPHOTOJOURNAL? EMAIL YOUR SUGGESTION TO: JIM.COLTON@ZUMAPRESS.COM