The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 20, 2003


Landscapes color Gleason walls this summer

The unusual effect light can have on color characterizes the 32 photographs by Joe Schatz on display in "American Landscapes" at the Gleason Library from June 30 through September 3. Within picturesque scenes, there's an unexpected sheath of salmon, a spot of intense aqua, or a slash of violet. The results are almost uncanny when you learn more about the photographer.

"I am color blind," admits Schatz. "It was very difficult for me to do any color work." Schatz has used a 35-millimeter camera since his teen years in New York City, primarily as the family historian at events. He didn't start taking the hobby seriously until about five years ago.

Schatz began working in black-and-white photography. He used his own darkroom to develop and print photos at his home for years in Acton where he lives with his wife Mary. The photographer explains his color limitations only show up with very dark and very light shades. He says, "I will call a maroon a black. A light gray, a light blue, a light pink · to me they are all the same. If we decorate the house in a beige scheme, I can't be any help at all. I can't see it."

In the darkroom, he could manage black-and-white production, but he found the limited light made color production dauntinguntil he began using Digital technology with his computer. Now he only works in color.

"Color adds so much more dimension to what's going on," Schatz says." In black-and-white, it's literally shades of gray. Perhaps I appreciate colors more because of my limitations."

Schatz has found success in color, and two years ago began showing his work. His landscapes have appeared at many libraries in the region: in Weston, Newton, Marlborough, and most recently in Concord. He has had shows at Emerson Hospital, the Nashoba Brook Bakery, and Nancy's airfield café in Stow. Schatz won the first place award in a photography competition as part of Acton's 250-anniversary town celebration.

Understanding color production

Educated as an electrical engineer and equipped with a Ph.D. from Columbia, Schatz has enjoyed a professional career over the last few decades at high-tech companies such as Digital, Bell Laboratories, and AT&T. For the last six years, he's been at M.I.T. full-time, and currently focuses on commercializing inventions and new technologies developed there.

In his spare time, usually when on vacation, Schatz takes landscape photographs using 35-millimeter Nikon equipment and color film. He loves the outdoors and hiking. On a recent trip to the Southwest he took 40 rolls of 36 pictures. After returning home from a trip, he mails out the rolls for development into transparencies. Schatz then spends his free time viewing the transparencies and selecting images for scanning. He uses a high-resolution scanner to digitize the images into huge files for display on his computer workstation.

"I couldn't do what I do if I wasn't an engineer," says Schatz, " but I couldn't do what I do unless I also was an artist." Although he has taken a few workshops, the photographer has had no formal education in photography, and has learned his craft mostly by reading and experimenting.

Schatz finds that the colors on the workstation screen do not always match the transparency due to technical limitations, and he adjusts the shades using computer controls. He manipulates the background and crops the picture as needed. When satisfied, he prints out the final image on a high-quality, ink-jet printer that accurately captures colors true to the screen. If he does have any doubts about the color, he says, "I call my wife."

Schatz then mounts and frames the final print. Of his thousands of color transparences and slides, Schatz has selected only about 300 images for scanning. There are just over 40 prints that he considers good enough for public display.

Leaving beige out of the picture

The show at the Gleason represents two firsts for Schatz: he will offer a new miniature format and he will debut pictures from the Southwest on the second floor. The landscapes on the first floor come from his well-established New England collection, including images from Acadia National Park in Maine and the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts.

"I'm introducing a new concept called the 'miniature' at the library," says Schatz. When scouting out the Gleason walls, the photographer noticed a 16-inch space between two windows on both the first and second floor, and on the columns on the second floor. He recalls, "It called for something."

Schatz responded by centering a small print in an 8x10-inch frame. The photographer prices these photos at $70. The 14x16 framed images will go for $120, and the 16x20 shots run $160. He has selected several "signature images" available in 20x24 format for $220.

The photographer considers himself a realist photographer. "What I try to do is really capture a scene so that you, the viewer, would like to go where I've been," says Schatz. "A lot of comments I get from people is 'I really would like to be there.'" In fact, he has sold pictures to people who have actually been there and recall staying at a cottage depicted or strolling on a particular beach.

Nonetheless, the vibrant colors in the Southwest inspired him to take an artsy photo he calls "Morning Glory." The early sky at Yellowstone National Park had such spectacular shades that the photographer couldn't resist just pointing his camera and clicking.

The trip west so inspired Schatz, that he's planning another trip out there. This time, he'll view some rock formations and canyons in Arizona. Perhaps after that he'll visit his grown son, John, who works as a math teacher at a private school in the Bahamas. At any rate, he's already signed up to shoot the wedding of his other son, Joe, a reporter at the Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C. If wife Mary doesn't wear the traditional beige, color photography should work out just fine.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito