Review by Joseph Tepper
Underwater photographers so often limit their subject material. This may sound strange, given that the world’s oceans host some of the most biodiverse habitats with thousands of rare and wonderful species. You could spend a lifetime diving and still capture less than one percent of marine subjects. But for photographer Howard Schatz, the underwater world is much more than just a means to an end—cataloging the ocean’s rare and unknown. For Schatz, water is another photographic tool in his impressive arsenal.
Howard’s stunning underwater material, along with the rest of the awe-inspiring photographic work accrued during his 25-plus-year career, are the subject of his new two-volume book, Schatz Images: 25 Years. It seems an understatement to say that Schatz’s photographic anthology is the grandaddy of coffee-table books: running to more than 1000 pages, the pair of hard-cover books are more apt to be featured in a gallery of images in a fine art museum than light reading on your dentist’s table.
You’ve probably heard of Howard Schatz because of his groundbreaking work in the categories of commercial and conceptual underwater photography. Schatz released H2O—a collection of his underwater imagery—back in 2007, and we had quite the review for it: “H2O can be easily summed up in one word—stunning—or breathtaking—or—[insert the adjective that best describes your mind being blown away, here].”
And while our review for H2O stands, it will be your job to come up with some more mind-blowing-esque adjectives for the underwater imagery in Schatz Images: 25 Years. There’s everything from beautifully bare models in flowing cloth poised perfectly to mind-bending visual illusions created by surface reflections, and even images where you have to strain your eyes to notice that the effect created is the result of underwater imagery at all.
But perhaps the most interesting insight provided into Howard’s underwater photography is not an image, but an anecdote. Schatz’s entry into this photographic niche was purely by accident. It was only after donning swim goggles to protect his eyes from chlorine water while playing pool basketball that the already accomplished image-maker realized the potential of the underwater world. “I was able to observe how bodies moved and how their movements were affected by the relatively weightless environment beneath the surface,” writes Schatz. “I thought there might be some great possibilities for unique images.”
Boy, was he right. It may have taken six months for Schatz to produce the first underwater image up to his standards, but we should be forever grateful that he tried on those swim goggles. As an underwater photographer, the most inspiring photos aren’t necessarily the ones that would entrance the normal viewer. Yes, there’s unquestionably amazing beauty in the female and male forms, clad only in bright fabric, frozen against a stark black background.
However, the images where you barely notice that underwater photography was required—minute air bubbles clinging to a face or a fish’s-eye view of a model out of the water through Snell’s window—are a reminder of how truly exceptional underwater images are made. It happens when we remember that water isn’t just a means to an end, but a unique medium and environment.
It often seems we have our blinders on to only focus on marine photography, but Schatz Images: 25 Years will force you to take those blinders off—and make you happy you did. The book is the collection of 32 individual and personal projects from the last quarter-century. There are photojournalism projects on redheads, newborn babies, dancers, and athletes (who will make your workout regiment feel futile). The attention to capturing detail of motion, texture, and light pervades all these other projects as it does Schatz’ underwater work.
Even if you only have an interest in underwater imagery (good luck with that after seeing these photos), the book is an inspiration for coming up with new project ideas, even if you can’t execute them as flawlessly as Schatz. It is a reminder that your next great photographic idea can be only a small happenstance away—no farther than putting on a pair of swim goggles.
Schatz Images: 25 Years is now available for preorder, and will be available beginning January 1st, 2015. The book is a deluxe two-volume, signed, limited edition of 500 copies. More information can be found on the book’s official website.
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