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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.

Schatz still primarily uses film for fine-art work due to the superior quality he feels he gets from a good drum scan. He finds that digital cameras do a fine job in situations where the image size isn't going to be too large, and the convenience of digital cameras can't be beat.

There are specific skills that Schatz brings from his past life as a physician, as well. “Every time a physician sees a patient, that physician makes notes,” says Schatz. “And I do note every shoot. For every shoot I've ever done, there are notes and a drawing of the shoot and Polaroids from the shoot printed in a book. I can look up something I shot five or 10 years ago and see just about exactly how I shot it.”

Much of his personal work ends up in book form, although it's not the end result that Schatz is concerned with. “I'm sort of project-oriented,” he says. “I get an idea and then I want to explore it. There are some ideas I have, I explore and they don't go anywhere, or it's not such a good idea. It's like climbing what I call a creative tree. You get onto a branch and sometimes the branch is rotten and you fall off. But falling isn't so bad—the ground is soft. Sometimes you get on a branch and there's a cherry every two inches to pick. There's fruit to pick. There's yield. It's partly mysterious and magical and lucky.”

Schatz photographs constantly, for himself and for clients, but it's not exactly like work. He takes inspiration from the idea that if you wrote one page a day, at the end of the year you'd have a book. “My goal is to make pictures every day,” he says. “Preferably, they're pictures for me, for my dream. I want to try to fulfill my fantasies every day, and shoot and explore and try to find these things. I just keep going and going, like that rabbit with the batteries. I just keep working. And, in a way, it's not work. It's exploration of a dream, and that isn't work. Although down deep inside I ‘have' to do it, it's not work.”

A Path Less Traveled

As a retina specialist, Dr. Howard Schatz led a blessed life. He achieved success and stability for himself and his family. He lived in northern California, made a nice living and enjoyed taking pictures in his spare time.

But as his daughters grew up and he had more free time, Schatz became increasingly focused on his hobby. He'd make images of the things that interested him. He entered contests and achieved a modest success. The hobbyist photographer even accepted advertising assignments on his nights and weekends. It soon became clear that Dr. Schatz had to decide in which direction to take his career—down the established path of medicine or setting out on the new road of professional photography.

At the urging of his wife, Schatz took a sabbatical from his practice in San Francisco, packed up and moved to New York City. He hoped to spend a year there, discovering exactly what he could accomplish by using his camera full-time. In October 1995, he and his wife rented a studio in which they could live and work, and Schatz began photographing dancers.


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