Howard Schatz: Inspiration is Everywhere

GraphisMay 17, 2024

Welcome to our exclusive Graphis Journal interviews with the visionary behind the lens, Howard Schatz. Renowned worldwide for his thought-provoking imagery, Howard has redefined the art of photography through his innovative approach and unparalleled creativity. With a career spanning decades and a portfolio that spans the spectrum of human emotion and experience, Howard continues to inspire and challenge us all with his art.

Introduction by Ariel Orr Jordan, Playwright

Howard Schatz’s photographs are nothing short of a visual poetic essay that explores and celebrates the endlessly fascinating variations of the human body and relationships. The captivating imagery within speaks volumes—it’s soulful, electrifying, and truly hypnotic. In every single image, Howard manages to capture the essence of multifaceted complexity, turning each into a work of art that leaves a lasting impact. There’s an undeniable divine spark in Howard Schatz’s photographs, and his photographic prowess is nothing short of an innovating tour de force on the cutting edge of contemporary photography.

What inspired or motivated you into your career? 

I make photographs in order to surprise and delight myself.  It’s an addiction to which I succumb readily and joyously.  

Where do you seek inspiration? 

Most frequently inspiration comes from visual stimulation: art, sculpture, an infinite number of photography websites,  magazines, etc. It also comes from reading, hearing music, and even discussion and conversation. 

What’s in your camera bag?  

In the studio, I use medium-format cameras and strobes. I walk around with a 35mm camera. 

What are your favorite subjects to photograph? 

I am interested in people, portraiture, beauty, fashion, the human body, movement (i.e. dance and sports), and the magic of photographing people underwater. 

I am currently working on three major projects: 1. Above and Beyond, photographic portraiture and video interviews of extraordinary people in our time. 2. Modern-Modern Dance, A study of professional dancers and modern dance expression vs. ballet. My focus at the moment is on dancers from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. 3. The bodies of NFL (National Football League) players. 

You’ve published twenty-two books. Do you have a favorite that you have enjoyed making the most? What sets it apart from the others? 

Each book I’ve published contains work from a personal project. When a book is published sometimes the project comes to an end, and that’s sometimes hard for me. I generally want to continue exploring, discovering, and creating. I loved them all and fell in love with everything about them. You cannot persevere in the way necessary to complete a multi-year photographic project without having a passionate commitment to the undertaking. 

Who were some of your greatest past influences?

I initially learned photography from books of photography. I  have an extensive library of monographs that continue to be a source of inspiration and influence. 

Who among your contemporaries today do you most admire?

The list is so long: for starters, I find the works of Tim Walker, Sandro Miller, R.J. Muna, Tim Flach, Sebastiao Salgado, George Steinmetz, Helmut Newton, Erwin Olaf, Michael Kenna, Walter Iooss, Jeffrey Milstein, Elliot Erwitt, Annie Leibovitz, Jimmie Nelson, Erik Almas, Stephen Wilkes, and Henk van Rensbergen beyond inspiring.  

Who have been some of your favorite people or clients that you have worked with? 

We have done wonderful projects for clients from around the world: MGM Grand Spa; fashion designer Jason Wu in partnership with Briso; Escada perfume; Wolford swimwear; Danon water, all underwater; Repower, an energy company from Italy; Kanebo cosmetic company from Japan; and Nike, Reebok, Gatorade, and Sports Illustrated here in the US with focus on movement and athletes. 

What are the most important ingredients you require from a client to do successful work? 

A clear vision and communication. 

How do you define success?  

“Busy” is the best blessing. 

What is your greatest professional achievement?

Every publication, every assignment, every museum exhibition, every gallery show, and every accolade is a “brick” in the building of a career. It’s important not to succumb to the highs and lows that are inevitable in any career. 

What is the greatest satisfaction you get from your work?

There are few better feelings of happiness than when I can create an image that surprises and delights me. 

What interests do you have outside of your work?

I play tennis five times a week. I cook and read books. 

What do you value most? 

Happiness for my family and loving relationships. 

What would you change if you had to do it all over again?

An even better education. 

Where do you see yourself in the future? 

I have so much more to say…. I want it to go on and on and on.

What has inspired or motivated you in your career?

I have a deep, passionate attraction to visual imagery; creating photographs brings me great satisfaction. I enjoy looking at all kinds of images: photographs, painting, graphic design, sculpture, architecture, etc.

What is your work philosophy?

I make images to surprise and delight myself. It is not helpful to think about, worry about, or be concerned with what others might think. The images I make must satisfy me before I let them out into the world.

Who is or was your greatest mentor?

I have had many great teachers throughout my career. Those who had the most significant impression on me were those who sought to see things that were original, new, revealing,

thrilling, and inspiring.

What is the most difficult challenge you’ve overcome to reach your current position?

I am at the point in my experience and career where I can take a reasonably good photograph almost all the time—the challenge is making something truly unique and fantastic. That is extremely hard; no matter how hard I work, it is still fleeting. Sometimes, all the elements combine to create something remarkable and spectacular. I don’t always have control over

that end, but by working hard at it constantly and sticking with it, magnificence visits me every so often.

Who have some of your greatest past influences been?

Everything has the potential to inspire. It is important to be open, to see the world anew and hopeful, knowing there is always a chance for some spark to come from my experiences and observations. Paying close attention is helpful.

Who among your contemporaries today do you most admire?

I am so impressed by how many great visionary, accomplished, and skilled photographers there are. It seems that I discover someone new every day. I follow many leads, look at many websites, read books, magazines, social media, etc. I pay attention and know that as I remain open and keep looking, I will find brilliant people doing wonderful work.

What would be your dream assignment?

I make images for myself, and so the assignments are my own. I am as hungry as ever to create and discover new and exciting imagery that comes from within me.

What do you consider your most outstanding professional achievement so far?

I am constantly moving. I strive to make images that are new to me, that shock me, and that feel richly satisfying. Then, I move on, maintaining a course of exploration, experimentation, and occasionally satisfying results.

What about your work gives you the greatest satisfaction?

Essentially, I am on a moving track of searching, experimenting, and exploring to find and create imagery that excites, surprises, and delights me.

Howard Schatz has received international acclaim for his work. He has published 23 books of his work, with his most recent, PAIRS, published in the fall of 2023. He has won virtually every award in photography, with over 200 museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide. Howard has made extraordinary images for Ralph Lauren, Escada, Sergio Tacchini, Nike, Reebok, Wolford, Etienne Aigner, Sony, Adidas, Finlandia Vodka, MGM Grand Hotel, Virgin Records, and Mercedes-Benz. Howard’s fine artwork is represented in galleries in the United States and abroad. He posts the weekly “A PHOTOGRAPH” on his blog on his website.

Social: Instagram, Facebook, X, LinkedIn

To discover more, you can buy Graphis Journal issue #360 here and Graphis Journal issue #381 here.

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