Howard Schatz

2021 Professional Special Photographer Of the Year

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background!

Over 50 years ago, in the 1960’s, when in my third year of medical school, I was invited to a party where there were about 20 couples, physicians, residents, interns, medical students and their wives, mostly school teachers.

Two momentous things happened that impacted my life forever: one was meeting an ophthalmology resident who was so enthusiastic, energized and excited by his chosen specialty that I decided to see “what if” and elected to switch the alternate quarter of my senior year from Cardiology to Ophthalmology. That did it for my future in medicine: training as a resident in ophthalmology and then in a fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital (Wilmer Eye Institute) as a Retinal specialist.

The second “moment” occurred when one of the residents, who had been stationed in Korea as a military physician, had just returned with the new Nikon F camera demonstrating it to everyone at the gathering. This new through-the-lens camera where one could readily dial ASA, shutter speed, aperture, etc was magic to my eyes and soul.

The next day, I wrote my cousin who was stationed in Korea and asked him to purchase for me this camera with a 50mm lens. After a few letters and payment and a few months of waiting the camera arrived and I became as hooked on photography as I was Ophthalmology.

I worked as a scientist, researcher, clinician and teacher in my chosen field in San Francisco for 25 years. I carried my camera everywhere I went. During the last 8 years of that time (1987-95) I devoted one full day a week (Saturdays) to photography. During those 8 years, my work received a great deal of attention. Four books were published. There were numerous gallery shows, 18 museum exhibitions of my work, awards, and recognition. We began to receive calls from magazines and advertising companies which, as a busy physician I could not do.

My wife, Beverly Ornstein, suggested we take a one-year sabbatical in New York City to see what we would be able to do full-time in Photography. The year (from October 1995 to 1996) was exciting, energizing, scarry, challenging and glorious, We went to bed every night giggling with happiness over this “adventure.” We decided to re-up the sabbatical for another year, then another and another. After a time it was clear I would not return to medicine. Beverly tells everyone we are in our 26th year of sabbatical.

Medicine taught me a great deal that helps me immensely in my work. Details for another time……

Q: Do you ever have trouble getting inspired?

There is so much I want to “say’,” explore and see—I just want to be able to keep going so I can experience these things.

Q: What would you say is the hardest thing about photography?


Q: You have been chosen Special Photographer of the Year for your work, “Growing Up.” This is a gargantuan body of work that has required decades of time and patience. How did you come up with this idea?

In the first two weeks of my internship, I was assigned to the Obstetrics ward at Cook County Hospital in Chicago and had the incredible opportunity to deliver over 120 newborns. That experienced imprinted deeply in my psyche. 20+ years later (over 30 years ago) I began a project making photographs of women in their last few weeks pregnancy. I was interested and curious on many levels, in part to explore the idea of “biologic sculpture.” A book of this work “WITH CHILD” was published: https://howardschatz.com/books/with-child/

I asked each woman if they would return with their newborn babies and made photographs of Newborns, in some cases with the new mothers. A book, “NEWBORN” has also been published: https://howardschatz.com/books/newborn/

I asked each mother to please return each year with their child. I have continued to make yearly portraits of these kids.

I have studied over 200 children from childhood into their 20’s some starting in utero and when they were newborns, and others when they were about six or seven, making annual studio portraits and asking them, once they learned to read and write, to write answers to a series of questions, a kind of diary about their lives, their feelings, their hopes, their regrets. This project is nearing its completion.

Q: What has been the most notable memory for you while working on this project? What would you say you’ve learned through this experience?

I love these kids. I’ve seen them grow up and know them and their parents. It is a happiness.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how things happened behind the scenes, the process of your work?

I work with people, subjects, models, assistants, other creative artists, agents, managers, publicists, editors, art directors, etc. I attempt to create an atmosphere of “grace,” that embodies kindness, generosity understanding, forgiveness, tolerance and trust. I want everyone who leaves our studio after a shoot to feel happy and grateful that we had an opportunity to do good work together.

And, I am serious about my work; I prepare thoroughly and am open to the infinite possibilities that creativity allows and calls for. I am grateful to the creative gods that on occasion bless us with magic, magnificent mistakes and unexpected wonder.

Q: Why did you decide on entering this particular project into the IPA?

I know it is unique.

Q: What does winning this competition mean to you?

I am aware that building a career and maintaining it at a high level is daunting. It is like building a castle—one needs lots of bricks, and some cornerstones, taking time, laying down one after the other. Every publication, exhibition, gallery show, assignment, editorial feature, the award is like a brick and in some cases, as with this wonderful IPA recognition, an important cornerstone. One must humbly realize that it takes many, many bricks to build a castle. It takes persistence, tenacity, emotional commitment and passion.

Q: If you could do anything or go anywhere, what would your dream photography project be?

I make photographs to surprise and delight myself. The possibilities are endless and incertain. I just want to stay on this earth and stay the course.

Q: What is next for you, are you working on anything right now?

I am project driven. Current projects; The Shape of the NFL; The Movement of Dance, Pairs, Portraits and The growing Up project.

Thank you, IPA—our special little world needs you and your sincere, devoted and loving works.

Website: http://howardschatz.com

Work: The Shape of the NFL