Book Reviews

Howard Schatz’s 23rd Volume: A Photographic Pas de Deux 

October 18, 2023

By Jim Cornfield 

Versatile Howard Schatz Weighs In with His Latest Astonishing Monograph 

© 2023 Howard Schatz and Beverly J. Ornstein


by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein  
Lawrence Richard Publishing 

403 Pages. 365 photographs  

This twenty-third entry in Howard Schatz’s tally of published books shares a lot in common with his earlier collections. His latest, Pairs, out this month, brings into focus the most important trademarks of this gifted photographer’s vast body of work.  

The first of these is “Wow Factor.” Pairs, is practically an encyclopedia of “Wow Factor.” Schatz delights in ambushing a viewer with the unconventional — extravagant visual tropes like his commingling of (mostly naked) human bodies into sensual, abstract shapes, or his enigmatic portraits of subjects who all seem to know something the rest of us do not. Then there are his dizzying captures of dancers and athletes, and nearly all of the above sculpted by his stylized lighting. And, oh yes, there’s color, in many guises, from liquid pastels and earthy skin tones to reckless splashes of saturated chroma that appear where you’re not expecting them. It all combines as essential ingredients of Schatz’s power to “wow” — to delight and amaze his audience.  

Pairs also showcases a second important facet of Schatz’s creative DNA — the thought process behind it all, the so-called mental dynamic that drives such powerful visuals. He calls it “my quest to express what’s deep inside,” and to varying degrees, this same impulse occupies every serious artist. Howard Schatz elevates it to an obsession, and it’s something we’ve seen in nearly all his previous books and gallery shows. A few cases in point:  

In Gifted Woman, he goes straight at fifty high-achieving women with edgy, duotone environmental portraits to make the poetic point that “women hold up half the sky.” With Caught in the Act, he deconstructs the essence of the actor’s craft in no-holds-barred closeups of red-carpet movie and television stars — “actors in full flight” — performing difficult improv moments with no preparation (and no makeup). In the more recent Kink, Schatz explores, through some often-disturbing full-length portraits, the audacious exhibitionism and sexual preferences of otherwise ordinary people. In all of his other titles, WaterDance, Passion and Line, Body Knots and the rest, Schatz freely invokes this synergy between ideas and visuals. The result is his original, unorthodox, sometimes surreal vision of the world, and Pairs is the inevitable compilation of all that.  

“Bodyknot” © 2023 Howard Schatz and Beverly J. Ornstein

A Universe of Yin and Yang 

The cerebral backstory of Pairs is simply that all of existence seems naturally divisible by two. Everything has either its complementary partner or its polar opposite and either way, the two are never separated for long. So, for instance, we have the Chinese notion of Yin and Yang symbolizing dark vs light, male vs female. In the natural world, there’s the core mechanism of all the earth’s chemistry — oxidation and reduction, and in physics — motion vs statis and matter vs energy. Religion gives us good and evil, heaven and hell, Adam and Eve — and by extension, sperm and egg. Two, in fact, seems to be a very satisfying number for organizing everything within the scope of human thought, from War and Peace to Laurel and Hardy, and that’s the core idea at the heart of this book. The samples shown here are almost self-explanatory, but you should first hear Howard Schatz’s co-author, editor and soulmate, Beverly Ornstein, on the motivation behind Pairs: 

“This work is an exploration of the relationship between two subjects and the visual, graphic emotional, social, physical and even metaphysical and spiritual dynamic that results from pairing. The connections are sometimes subtle, sometimes not.”   

The Imagination Series
Creative Portrait Series
The Power of Color to Transform Your Images