Howard Schatz has children to thank for some of his best work. A physician, Schatz converted his dining room into a photo studio in 1987 when his second child, Jessica, went off to college.
"From the time I was in medical school, I’ve had a camera," Schatz says, "and I have made pictures. So this gave me the opportunity to really explore it. I devoted every Saturday to making pictures. And I was interested in everything, as I still am today. Around this time, with my interest still hanging on the hook of my memory, I went to the University of California Medical Center, where I was a professor and teaching, and went to the head of obstetrics and told her I was interested in studying pregnancy, pregnant women and their newborns. And she gave me access and made it easy for me."
So began a 20-year photographic study of pregnant women and babies that culminated last fall with the release of Schatz’s 18th book, With Child (Glitterati, 2011). Culled from 10,000 black-and-white nudes, the images in the book could pass for sculpture. The effect is intentional. It’s partly why Schatz worked in black-and-white.
"It was biologic sculpture," Schatz says. "I’m interested in everything about the body. I’m interested in the body as a structure, and I’m interested in its psyche. And if it was going to be about sculpture, I didn’t need it to be about skin. I’d rather it had been about stone or marble or some inorganic material. Color documents what’s there, and black-and-white leaves room for interpretation. I wanted it to be about sculpture, and I did everything I could to make it be about sculptural. You see, I painted people, I did strange things to their bodies, I projected light on their bodies."
One of the most amazing things about the collection is how energetic, even athletic, pregnant women can be. Schatz’s subjects included acrobats and dancers, some of whom wanted to be photographed doing what they love.
"They taught me," he says. "They’d show me they could do just about anything short of spinning on their belly. You can see what a pregnant woman can do. It’s totally and completely miraculous. See the girl who jumped in the air? Lenna Parr—she’s a dancer. I said, ‘I’ve wanted to make a picture of a dancer not only dancing, which I’ve done, but in the air. Because the best pictures of dance are in the air.’ She says, ‘Oh, I can do that, no problem.’ And she did."
Schatz photographed Sara Joel, a performer for Cirque du Soleil, suspended precariously in a sheer fabric cocoon.
"She performs in that thing," Schatz says. "And she says, ‘I’d like to do the shot in this.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know that I want to do that; what if you fall?’ She says, ‘I never have. I’ve done this 10,000 times if I’ve done it once.’ Her husband is a neurosurgeon. I said, patronizingly perhaps, ‘Have your husband call me. I want to talk to him about it.’ So her husband called me, and he said it was okay. I said, ‘If she falls, she can’t stop, it’ll hurt the baby, hurt her.’ He said, ‘She’ll be okay. She really wants to do it—it’ll be okay.’ But I didn’t want to do it. What do I need someone to hurt themselves for? It’s beautiful, she’s a great, special person."