DPP Home Profiles Howard Schatz - Uncommon Vision

Friday, June 8, 2007

Howard Schatz - Uncommon Vision

Howard Schatz's career sprung from unlikely beginnings. In Rare Creatures, he walked a line between commercial and personal vision, and also between film and digital technology.

He began to realize that he was in the presence of an elite level of beauty. “How many people have you known from Chechnya or Sweden or Chile or the Azores or Thailand, or everywhere?” he says. “From Senegal and Sweden and Finland and China and Brazil and Canada and little towns in Illinois. It occurred to me, if one was female, 19 years of age or so, tall, 5'9” or so, thin and pretty, the odds were very strong that that person was going to wind up in New York at some point and possibly walk through my door. I was seeing the range of human genetic expression, within this one very narrowed form, walk through my door.”

This rarity inspired Schatz to give the project its name. “Think about how many models there are. I worked out the numbers once—I counted the agencies; the number of models working was my numerator and the denominator was the world population. It was something like one out of five million; it might have been one out of 10 million!

“So I started making casting pictures,” says Schatz. “I told the modeling agencies I wanted to shoot portraits of their models…would they send them…it'll just be one roll of film and five minutes. And the agencies did.”

With one roll of film in his Hasselblad and about five minutes spent with each model, Schatz managed to make beautiful images of beautiful women, and he repeated the process close to 1,000 times. He photographed the models without benefit of professional makeup, hairstyling or attire. He set up simple lighting, Balcar strobes and a very large Chimera softbox, and he explored his subjects. “I handheld the camera and I walked around the model, looking, looking, looking for what was a miracle. Because all of them are miracles. And I shot. I stood on the ladder and came in down. I sat on the floor. I walked to the right, I walked to the left. It was about looking and seeing.”

Schatz designed the shoots so they would be quick and spontaneous. Because of this, and because the models weren't made up, he knew he'd face a considerable amount of postproduction computer work. His digital style is much like his shooting style—spontaneity and experimentation are valued above all else. And that's just the way he planned it. “I was looking to create my own little mystery according to what the girl looked like and how I felt about the image,” he says. “I sat here and just did it.”

Schatz continues, “The computer is just like the darkroom. Virtually every color image I do today is either shot digitally or scanned and then something happens to it. Maybe it's a slight contrast curve, maybe it's a slight change in color balance, or maybe it's something more remarkable—like putting makeup on a model who has none. Or maybe it's changing a lot of things, putting a new background in, whatever.

“For Rare Creatures, I blurred what I wanted to blur, I painted the eyes and the lips, I moved the hair around a little bit, I changed the color of the clothes they were wearing when I wanted to—I was able to look for what was, to me, the most incredibly beautiful.”

Because of the computer's ability to alter anything he does in the studio, Schatz does everything in the studio differently now. “I shoot flatter. I used to shoot with a lot of contrast, but now what I want is more detail. Because you can make anything black and blow out anything if you have the detail. You can make black-and-white easy. So it doesn't make sense to me to go through the same contortions. In the past, we'd want a white background, we'd make the background three-quarters or a stop brighter, and then we would ‘gobo' like crazy around the subject to try to shield all of that light from the camera, to fight flare and glare. Nowadays, we light less. We reduce that light to almost balanced because we can make anything white and not lose anything, and then I never have to worry about flare and glare. There are all sorts of things. I just shoot differently, and it makes things more spontaneous. It allows things to go quicker.”


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