DPP Home Profiles Howard Schatz - Trading Species

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Howard Schatz - Trading Species

From plants to animals, shooting to retouching, Howard Schatz is a photographic Renaissance man

While not a technical term, fiddling seems to perfectly characterize his approach. He has his own vision for each flower, and he'll use any tool to bring it out. Combine the computer with a singular aesthetic and you can create an entire kingdom of plants.

Schatz photographed every image in the book with the Hasselblad H1 and Leaf back, but he mixes the limitless possibilities of technology with an old-fashioned system for proofing and editing. When he thinks an image is nearly finished, he prints it out on his Fujix printer. Many prints are then filed away for fresh eyes to see days or weeks later. This method helped him pare the thousands of flower shots—all made on Monday afternoons over the course of three years—into the manageable 10 dozen or so that make up Botanica.

“We've printed a number of them and put them up in our studio,” he says. “And after a while, a few of them, I don't love them anymore. I think they're very well done, but they don't hold. The greatest test of art is time, and time is the best editor. So you never know how you're going to feel about anything after a week, a month, a year, 10 years...That's sort of the test: Do you love it or not?

“That's true for all art,” he continues. “When is a painter done? When is a sculptor done? You have to make aesthetic decisions. There are times when I'd work on an image and I couldn't get anywhere. So I'd put it away, back in the file, and the next night or the next week I'd open it and try it again. And then you find a place where no matter what direction you take it, it's not as good as where you are. You keep trying to make things better and when it looks wonderful and you can't make it better, you're probably there. But remember, I shot 10,000 flowers and there were 9,875 that didn't work out.

“It had to do with form and color, which is in a way very much like a book I did called Body Knots. Rather than using bodies, I was using flowers, which had much more variegation, much more form within the body of the piece. And it was a little more complex and intricate, which made it interesting from a different standpoint.”

From Flower To Power

Schatz is experienced at making interesting photographs that come from a slightly different standpoint. When he set out to document athletes in motion, he considered photographing them as a journalist would—with long lenses and fast, motion-stopping shutter speeds. Then he realized he wanted more control over the action so he decided to treat each of the images like a studio shoot and often relied on strobes to freeze movement, or long exposures to create motion blur, or even multiple exposures to add interest.

Says Schatz, “I went to sports events and I shot like a sports photographer, like a photojournalist at a sports event, but I realized that's not what interests me. I tried to make images of sports that you can't make if you're a sports photographer. I studied videotapes of all the sports, and then I played back the videotapes, looking for the image. What's the picture? Then when I'd find it, I'd take five or 10 Polaroids and bring these Polaroids to the shoot and show the athlete, and say, This is what I think the picture is. I was much more of a painter with Botanica and much more of a photographer with Athlete.”

The simple ability of a photograph to freeze motion, stop time and show viewers things they may never see with the naked eye is a large part of Athlete's appeal. Schatz amazed some of his subjects when he showed them his test shots.

“I showed Tasha Schwikert, the gymnast, a picture of a woman doing a backflip on a four-inch balance beam,” he says. “So she's extended out, she's upside down, her feet are in the air, her body is making a C, her back is arched, and her hands are about to grab the balance beam—the end of the flip. She asked, ‘How did you do this?' I said, ‘It's just a backflip.' She said, ‘Oh, sure!' So I set up the lights, and I called out, and I clicked my camera, and I kept shooting and shooting until I knew I had it.”


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