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November - Howard Schatz.

Howard Schatz is impassioned about making photographs. He is not just driven, he is insatiable. “I want to make photographs that are unique, magnificent and extraordinary. What I would really like is for people to see my photographs and faint from sheer astonishment,” he says, laughing heartily, “that’s an elusive dream, of course.” This dream has resulted in thirteen books of photography and more on the way.

Schatz photographs people.  His work in portraiture, fashion, action, sports, and dance has been published all over the world.  His recent work with the human body is as diverse as it is beautiful.  He is constantly seeking new ways to achieve artistic effects by combining a variety of materials with bodies of differing shapes. Bodies decorated with hand-painted roses, bodies covered in sequins, bodies swathed in chiffon, bodies bound in wire and bodies drenched in oil – no combination seems too outlandish for Schatz. A lily-white body decorated with chocolate appears at first glance to be a confection. Schatz confirms that it really is chocolate. “We have a shower in the studio,” he adds. The photograph of a woman in a giant soap bubble is also genuine. “The bubbles only last a second, but that’s long enough to capture an image.”  And that just begins to describe what might be termed his “beauty” and “fashion” imagery.

Then there’s the action photography and his unparalleled experimentation with the human body as sculpture. In his book, PASSION & LINE: PHOTOGRAPHS OF DANCERS (Graphis, 1999, ISBN: 1-888001-37-2), you’ll find the body in mid-flight on a trampoline or in full arabesque off a dance floor. In his soon to be released epic volume, ATHLETES (HarperCollins, 2002), Schatz’ outstanding ability to visualise and capture the essence of action is seen in an astounding new collection of images of athletes; they are seen catapulting eighteen-feet in the air off the end of a pole vault, or about to hit the water at the apex of a racing dive, or at the moment of release in an international javelin competition.  His unique perspective on that split second, in which the human body achieves the seemingly impossible, is a gift to the world.

Another remarkable result of Schatz’ passion for experimentation can be seen in the two books of photographs made underwater for which both he and his models worked to create fantastic images of human bodies that seem to float freely in space (WATERDANCE, Graphis 1996, ISBN: 1-888001-20-8, and POOL LIGHT, Graphis, 1998, ISBN: 1-888001-17-X).  In these two books, as in much of his other work, Schatz has chosen to use dancers.  “They have a unique physical creativity and control that allows them to move with grace, beauty, and energy.”

One of Schatz’ most striking collections is a series of images published in a book called BODY KNOTS, (Rizzoli Publishers, 2000, ISBN: 0-8478-2250-8). At the beginning of the book is a warning that most of us would do well to heed:

The majority of the people who "tied" themselves
into knots for this project are dancers, trained to
follow exacting instructions and psychologically
prepared for a very difficult physical challenge.”

 The original idea was to create biological sculpture, but the end result was much more than that. In this work, Schatz explores the endless variations possible when the human form literally becomes the photographer’s still life—twisted and turned, contorted and intertwined, these forms, choreographed by Schatz, using his favorite dancers as clay, are unique in the world of photographic imagery.

In his book, NUDE BODY NUDE (HarperCollins, 2000, ISBN 0-06-019552-5), Schatz returns to human the body at its most pure. The images are beautiful and extremely sensual. “ I am very clear that I always want my models to feel that my studio is a safe and professional place. My sole aim is to make powerful and beautiful photographs.” Schatz undertook this in-depth study of the human form with some trepidation since the nude has been studied so extensively.  He was very conscious of not wanting to repeat what others had done before.  This enormous tome brings new insight to this age-old subject; it’s a rich and wide-ranging exploration, which makes us see the human body in a new light—this is after all, the goal of making images.

Beverly Ornstein, his business partner (and wife) has a heavy workload. Not only does she manage the business; she also works with Schatz to edit the images that are published by the studio. Schatz attributes much of his success to her keen eye, and great intelligence. “One important requirement for success in photography is an understanding of its business. This requires incredible knowledge and skill,” says Schatz, nodding towards his wife.  In addition to Schatz and Ornstein, eight other people work at their studio in Soho in New York City.  They include photographic assistants, an archivist, and producers.

Most of the photographic work is done in the studio with hand-held cameras. Schatz’ medium-format photographic equipment consists of four Hasselblad cameras – two 553ELXs and two 555ELDs – plus an entire range of lenses. Occasionally, images are also created digitally from the outset, in which case Schatz uses a Hasselblad camera equipped with a Leaf Cantare digital back.

In 2001, Schatz will inaugurate a completely new series of books called the THE PRIVATE PORTFOLIOS.  The series, published by The Wonderland Press, will only be available through the galleries which represent Schatz’ work (a list can be found at his website   www.howardschatz.com ).  Only a very small number of books will be printed for each volume—and each will be specially bound and individually signed and numbered for collectors.  The series will debut with a body of work entitled RARE CREATURES: PORTRAITS OF MODELS (Wonderland Press, 2001, ISBN 0-9710210-0-7).  Schatz’ new book for 2002, ATHLETES (HarperCollinsPublishers), is a study of world-class athletes. PREGNANCY, which contains some fifty heroic black/white nudes of women in the last two weeks of their pregnancy, is planned for 2003.
In reflecting on his work Schatz says, “I make photographs because I have to. You have to be prepared to commit yourself in every way in order to create meaningful images. My personal work is my passion; my commercial work provides me with constant new challenges and the financial wherewithal to make possible all of the work I love.”

Kerstin Fiedler