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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Howard Schatz: With Child

Howard Schatz’s 20-year study of the pregnant female form in black-and-white

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One of the hazards of working with pregnant women was the risk of going into labor during a shoot. Schatz explains, "Two women had water break, and we just said, well… When I was a physician, I delivered 120 babies. When I graduated medical school, at age 23, my first rotation a week after graduation was on the obstetrics ward of Cook County Hospital in Chicago. And in two weeks I delivered 120 babies. That's what left its mark on me. That's what got me to do this 25 years later."
To make the bright white, alabaster look of some of the more sculptural images, Schatz lit in a shadowless, high-key fashion and then used a minor amount of postproduction magic to enhance the illusion of stone.

"That's just a contrast curve," he explains. "Instead of making lights lighter and darks darker, you enhance contrast. I just made lights light, midtones light and darks light. I lit without shadow. I lit to minimize the pain and angst I would have in trying to make it light. I said I just want this to be alabaster, and so I lit it that way. And sometimes I lit for a lot of shadow. For one or two women, I put a projected spot above them and shot it straight down so it's like really hard light and dark. For a few, I used a pattern in projection. The zebra one, for instance, that pattern I made myself. I use Photoshop to bend lines and turn curves and things. I make patterns in a way that pleases me. I sometimes convert these patterns to a 21⁄4 superslide and I put that in a Balcar digital projector and project it onto my subjects. There's a girl who's facing front who looks like she has black stockings on. That's just a round projection spot on her tummy."

Schatz worked with black-and-white film for the first half of the project, turning to digital capture in full color for the second half. It was important that the work not look different, so Schatz's digital conversions must be perfect. His approach is surprisingly basic.

"I'm going to give you my secret," he says. "Everybody talks about channels and this and that, and you've got to make sure your reds and yellows are this and your blues and your greens and cyans are this. I don't believe it. I do believe that's true when you're converting color work of anything but human skin—like outdoor work, mountain work, landscape work, rivers, snow, sea, forest—perhaps even photojournalistic work in which there are colors in addition to skin colors. But Photoshop is built to desaturate skin perfectly. So I just go to Hue/Saturation, I zoom it to zero, and I'm happy with that."

Adds Schatz, "The only Photoshop work I did other than desaturate was to do some spotting. When there were spots—two kinds I did. One, when there's a new zit. Lesions, stretch marks, scars I didn't change. But if there's a new zit, I had no reason to embarrass anyone. And the second thing I did was I spotted when there was a spot on the digital back. Other than that, there's no Photoshop."

Though he's rightfully proud of this body of work, the publication of With Child is also a mixed blessing for Schatz. He shoots personal projects that he loves, and it's very difficult for him to stop. He doesn't plan to cease shooting this one, either.

"The joy is in the journey for me," he says. "The book—I feel like it's nice, I feel good about it. But I'm not crazy. I feel good about it, but I'm not nuts over it. It was the doing of it, the shooting of it, the making the pictures that was the joy, the pleasure, the happiness. The book is an affirmation of my work, it's a calling card, and perhaps it's a contribution to mankind, hopefully. That would be nice—for an artist to do something to make other people happy. But that's sort of not why I did it. I think if you shoot what you think someone else wants, you're not going to make good images. You've got to shoot what's inside."

You can see more of Howard Schatz's photography, including images from his other 17 books, by visiting his website at www.howardschatz.com.


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