Thursday, June 14, 2007
Howard Schatz - Trading Species
From plants to animals, shooting to retouching, Howard Schatz is a photographic Renaissance man
When Howard Schatz released his last book, 2002's Athlete, it was a study of the human form in motion, and every image in it was made on film. His next book, Botanica, due out this fall from Bulfinch Press, represents not only a dramatic change in subject matter, but a whole new technique. Every image in Botanica was captured digitally, as are most of Schatz's photographs these days.
“We shoot almost all digital now,” he says. “We have a Leaf back and a Hasselblad H1 camera and a Macintosh G5, and I photograph everything with that camera and that digital back—and have for the last year. Our film bill prior to buying that back was probably $30,000 to $40,000 for the year; this year it was under $5,000.”
The cost benefit of making the switch to digital is enough incentive for most commercial photographers, but for Schatz, the decision was driven by his creative needs. He firmly believes in retouching—if not completely remodeling—almost everything he shoots. Some projects, like Athlete, saw little digital manipulation, while others, such as Botanica, rely heavily on postproduction expertise and experimentation.
“Before I do any project, I become a student,” Schatz explains. “So I went about and studied all the art on flowers that I could find. I bought 50 or 60 books and I studied them. And when I started making pictures that looked like someone else's, I purposely changed something until I could find my own unique way. No one has made pictures that look quite like this.”
The reason his flower photographs are so unique is that Schatz spent innumerable hours working and reworking them in the computer. Although some photographs appear relatively untouched, Schatz insists that there are no “straight” photos in the book. The mixture of wildly saturated images alongside seemingly straightforward photographs makes for a surprising experience. It's obvious that some of the images are fantasies and some are simply flowers, but the fun part is trying to determine which is which.
“It doesn't matter, and that's my interpretation,” Schatz says. “It's just my vision, what was my choice, what I wanted to put down. And does it have value or not? Does it do it for you? If you think about it, flowers are sexual organs. So I wanted to make them sexy. I didn't want them to be dull. I tried to make them sexy; I tried to make them blossom.”
In order to make them blossom, Schatz chose to concentrate on three simple things: “I fiddled with contrast, saturation and hue,” he says.