Born in Chicago on July 30th, 1940 Howard was the eldest of three children to immigrant Jewish parents who came to the U.S. from Eastern Europe to escape the pogroms (killing or severely harassing Jews).
His parents were very bright yet they had little education and no money, but they were determined for their children to become successful. “My mother,” Howard said, “Would grab my shirt, from the time I was 6 or 7 (and as she held onto him she would say), ‘For God sake, be somebody!’ ”
To Howard’s parents the key to becoming “somebody” was education.
“My mother prepared my brother and me to become physicians from the time we understood language (as toddlers).” And both sons did become doctors.
But there was a major problem. Because the family had no money, from the time he was just 8 years old, Howard had to work, which he would do all the way through medical school, as he found ways to get income or slash his expenses.
Whether it was delivering medical prescriptions or buying clothes wholesale and reselling them, Howard had to make money to pay for his education. He attended the University of Illinois as an undergraduate and later, its medical school, because it was a public institution and he could afford to attend.
Thankful for the opportunity and fearful of failure, Howard worked so hard at the University of Illinois; he earned straight A’s, and was accepted into the medical school after just three years, without ever having graduated from college.
After graduating from medical school and completing his internship, over the years, Howard became a preeminent ophthalmologist (eye specialist) and he became a Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at the Univ. of Calif. San Francisco. He also served as Director, Retina Research Fund, St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center, San Francisco.
An avid researcher as well as a leading practitioner, Howard published numerous papers, and was at the top of his profession, an ophthalmologist’s ophthalmologist.
But then Howard developed a new dream.
He had always enjoyed taking pictures, and from the time he was 10 years old, his best friend was Owen Deutsch, who never went to college, but instead, built a very successful business as a photographer. So successful, that when Howard was 47 in 1987, Owen retired from photography and sold his equipment to Howard.
Using this equipment, over the next eight years, Howard avidly took a wide variety of pictures, all the while remaining in ophthalmology. But throughout the early 1990’s he took sabbaticals from the medical profession to pursue his photography.
To understand what happened next, we need to take a look at Howard’s personal life.
At the age of 21, Howard married his childhood sweetheart who was also 21, after her graduation from Northwestern University. Their marriage was blessed with two daughters, but after 19 years of marriage, they divorced in 1981.
Five years after his divorce, Howard met Beverly Orenstein. They fell in love immediately and within a year, they were married.
“Beverly was the head of news and current affairs at KQED, the PBS television station in San Francisco. She had done many women’s programs. (Through Beverly), I started photographing successful women, not for their looks but who were known for their accomplishments.”
The result was Howard’s and Beverly’s first photographic book, “Gifted Woman,” in 1992. And Howard found that he thoroughly enjoyed capturing the world in photographs, putting as much of himself into this profession as he had the medical profession.
With the success of “Gifted Woman,” Howard kept taking sabbaticals to focus on his photography until finally in 1995; he decided to end his medical career. Beverly ended her career with PBS in San Francisco and subsequently they moved to New York to establish a studio in the artist colony of SoHo.
Surely many people in the medical profession thought Howard had lost his mind to give up such a lucrative income and the high stature of being a world class ophthalmologist.
But Howard ignored his critics and became an award winning photographer, as renowned in photography as he had been as a doctor. Howard’s and Beverly’s business partnership has now published 19 books of Howard’s remarkable photographs. In addition, in 2012 they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
To put Howard’s unusual career in perspective: It is as if superstar baseball player Mickey Mantle left baseball in the prime of his career and relocated 3,000 miles to become a photographer. And then he became a world class photographer just as he had been a great baseball player.
At the age of 72, what is next for Howard? “I want to keep going and going and going. I love my life. I don’t want this energetic pursuit to stop. (I want to) continue to explore all the things that excite and interest me. I am a moving target – I have a lot of projects. (And) next year, our 20th book will be published.”
Howard Schatz Photo