November 2013




Retina specialist makes second career in photography

Caught in the Act: Actors Acting was released in late October and is Dr. Schatz's 20th book.

Source: Howard Schatz, MD

Caught in the Act includes photographs and in-depth interviews of 85 professional actors. Each actor was given directions, scenarios and dialogue to improvisationally and spontaneously "act." Here are shots that Dr. Schatz caught of Peter Dinklage, Ben Kingsley, Thomas Haden Church, and Jason Schwartzman.

Source: Howard Schatz, MD

Howard Schatz, MD, was a practicing ophthalmologist when he gradually transitioned to a career in photography 18 years ago

Howard Schatz, MD, was a retina specialist in San Francisco until a career change 18 years ago led him to a second career in photography. Now, he's a well-known photographer who, among many other awards, publications, and recognitions, has just had his 20th book published.

Beginning a career in ophthalmology

From a very early age, Dr. Schatz knew that he would be a physician. "My mother programmed my brother and I to become physicians from the time we could understand language," he said. "I never thought I'd be anything else." While his brother, Charles J. Schatz, MD, became a world-renowned head and neck radiologist, now practicing in Los Angeles, Dr. Howard Schatz became an ophthalmologist, largely motivated by an accident his brother had as a child, which caused him to lose an eye.

"The ophthalmologist who took care of him, Emil Romano, MD, was a loving, kind, warm, communicative, and wonderful man that my parents admired and respected. As a little kid I observed their feelings for him. This powerfully informed my decision to become an ophthalmologist." After medical school, internship, and ophthalmology residency, Dr. Schatz had a medical and then a surgical fellowship in retina at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical Center. He moved to San Francisco to practice and became a clinical professor of ophthalmology at the UCSF Medical Center.

"I saw only retinal patients referred by ophthalmologists," he said. "There were seven textbooks and 100+ scientific articles published. I was blessed to be invited to speak and participate in symposia in many places in the world." "I enjoyed my relationship with my patients as well as teaching residents and other ophthalmologists. I also enjoyed clinical research and felt I was making a contribution to our field."

An interest in photography

After his daughters had left home for college, he began to devote one day a week, Saturdays, to photography. "It always interested me," he said.

"Within a few years, there were three or four books of my photographs published," Dr. Schatz said. "There were gallery shows as well as museum shows and magazine articles."

Transitioning from ophthalmology to photography

After seven or eight years of doing photography only on Saturdays, Dr. Schatz remained a serious retina specialist, doing clinical research, teaching, and caring for retinal patients. But he was receiving phone calls and inquiries for his photography and to do commissions.

It was at this time that his wife suggested that he take a sabbatical from his work and move to New York City for a year to do photography full time.

"I spoke to all the people I was associated with professionally in San Francisco and arranged to go away for a year with the caveat that I could return," Dr. Schatz said. On October 1, 1995, Dr. Schatz and his wife, Beverly Ornstein, moved into a SoHo loft in New York City.

He said that first year was exciting, fun, and tremendously challenging. It was so interesting that Dr. Schatz arranged to take a second year's sabbatical. "After five or six years, it was clear I was not going to return," he said. "I loved and missed medicine, but this other part of my life was so compellingly rich and interesting." He has now been a full-time photographer for 18 years.

Early projects

When Dr. Schatz first started doing photography and as he built his career, he had to learn many things.

"The first thing I did was to learn how to make black and white portraits," Dr. Schatz said. His first project, while still in San Francisco, was titled "Gifted Woman." This project, through interviews and portraiture, featured women who were well known because of their accomplishments and contributions to the world. They included Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Condoleezza Rice, among others.

The "Gifted Woman" project became a book. The images were purchased by a woman philanthropist who then donated them to the Oakland Museum; it became Dr. Schatz's first museum show.

While still living in San Francisco, Dr. Schatz did a major photographic project focused on homeless people: Beginning on the first Saturday of 1991, and every Saturday thereafter for the entire year, Dr. Schatz traveled the streets of San Francisco to interview and photograph homeless people.

"I spent the entire year of 1991, every single Saturday, with a black backdrop, my camera, releases and a tape recorder; I met, photographed, and interviewed about 20 people each Saturday," he said. "In that year I met, interviewed, and photographed approximately 1,000 homeless people." His photographs from this project were published in a book and also became a gallery show that traveled the country for six years, to 18 different museums.

As he continued to do photography, Dr. Schatz explored a number of different techniques and topics. "I became interested in dance, underwater photography, sports, movement and light," he said.

Caught in the Act

Dr. Schatz's newest book, Caught in the Act: Actors Acting, was released in late October and is his 20th book. The book includes photographs and in-depth interviews of 85 professional actors, including Colin Firth, Michael Douglas, John Malkovich, Pierce Brosnan, Jeff Daniels, Laurence Fishburne, Sissy Spacek, Robin Wright, Sam Waterston, David Strathairn, David Schwimmer, Geoffrey Rush, Amy Poehler, Jane Lynch, and others.

"Caught in the Act is a book that has tremendously interested me," Dr. Schatz said. "It's about creativity and imagination." He said the book is about how a great actor can use his body and words on a page to become someone else entirely. Each actor was given directions, scenarios and dialogue to improvisationally and spontaneously "act." Images were made of each "character." The book project, with 625 photographs, took around six years to complete, and parts of it appeared in Vanity Fair every month for six years.

It was a wonderful experience, Dr. Schatz said, that studied creativity and imagination. The portraits were about veracity, rather than vanity.

Currently, he is working on a 25-year retrospective of all of his work, more than 35 different projects. It will be a two-book boxed set of 800 pages and images and will be published in a limited edition of 500 copies next year.

How ophthalmology and photography relate

Despite two very different professions, Dr. Schatz said that medicine and photography have certain similarities and glaring differences. "My education and training from my premedical education in college to medicine has prepared me well in this world of photography," he said. Studying medicine helped with an understanding of scientific methodology, the physics of light and lenses, as well as how to relate warmly and readily to strangers. "My training in medicine and education has helped me tremendously as a photographer," Dr. Schatz said. "I feel like I came from medicine to photography with great strengths."

"On the other hand, there are huge differences between practicing medicine and doing photography. In medicine, there are no mistakes. It's about making the correct diagnosis, prescribing the correct treatment, and doing any surgery with absolute perfection. For ophthalmologists, the risk of error could mean the loss of an eye. My work as a photographer is a lot about mistakes and trying all sorts of things. The only risk is a photograph that doesn't work. It has informed my whole way of being and living my life."

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