Surprise and Delight – Review of “Pairs” by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein

Every now and then, an idea comes along which appears to be simple when, in fact, that is not the case. Not the case at all.

The idea is clear. The idea is insightful. It’s easily explained. Yet it is far from simple.

“Pairs” by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein
Published by Lawrence Richard Publishing, 2023
review by W. Scott Olsen

A clear idea is sometimes a wonderland for exploration. Taken well beyond a comfortable start to its extremes, or at least thought about in unconventional ways, we think we know something, and then some artist comes along and presents it to us in a way that is completely fresh, unusual, expressed in a way that we had yet to imagine.

That is oftentimes the genesis of great art, the ability to present what we think we already know in ways not only unexpected, but outside what we had previously imagined. The role of the artist is to make the world larger, more nuanced, and more breathtaking.

Dance Study 1378, Tap Dancer Chikako Iwahori / Beauty Study 1293, Model Natalia Costa

I’m thinking about this because I’m holding an insightful new book in my hand called Pairs by Howard Schatz and Beverly Orenstein. Pairs begins with a clear idea. Let’s put two things together and see what happens.

Much like Helen Levitt’s book One, Two, Three, More in concept (but not at all in photographic style), Pairs asks us to consider the relationship between elements within a frame or between two frames placed next to each other. The very definition of the word “pair” means two things meant to be understood as a single unit. 

Underwater Study 2830, Dancers Alison Clancy & Luke Wiley / Underwater Study 2845, Dancers Alison Clancy & Luke Wiley

In his brief introduction, Schatz writes, 

“From the beginning of my professional career, my main interest, my motivating force, and passion has been to explore and experiment, searching for imagery that would surprise and delight me in my quest to express what’s deep inside. One of many areas of my ongoing interest has been the exploration of the relationship between two subjects: the visual, graphic, emotional, social, physical, and even spiritual dynamic resonating and resulting from such combinations…I am in search of the electric, sometimes eccentric, and always compelling connections possible with a combination of two, whether dancers, athletes, mothers and newborns, gymnasts, or even inanimate objects… A photographic odyssey into the world of twos is a natural outgrowth of my ongoing search for surprise and delight.”

That’s the idea. Every image in this book, or nearly every image as sometimes the pairing is two images that cross the gutter, is a duet, a joining or comparison or contrast or continuation, a combination of one element with something else. They range all over the realm of possibilities. And every image is a celebration.

Beauty Study 1140, Model Natalie Walters / Liquid Light Study 1079, Camilla Thorsson

There are images of fathers and sons, both adults and children. There are pictures of mothers and daughters. There are nude portraits of dancers. There are images, exploding with color, of what Schatz calls body knots, contortions of people together. There are pictures of two feet. There are pictures of models in extreme makeup and at least one image of a model working with a makeup artist.

Underwater Study 3198 / Dancers Elysia Fridkin & Amar Ramasar Oscar de la Renta

There are pictures of the same person doubled, the images briefly or substantially separated in time. There are mirrored reflections, and there are pictures underwater, pictures in studios, pictures on the street or on the beach. The consistency in this book is not setting or color or style of approach.  The consistency is in the basic, clear, wonderfully complicated idea: what happens when things – anything, all things – are paired?

Model Belinda Baidoo with newborn twins Elijah & Agnes / Newborn Study 1547, Eli Turrietta & newborn son, Nguyen

For example, one page has a double exposure image of actor Peter Dinklage, two forms of a contemplative look, allowing us to see something akin to stereophonic sound. Different information about the same song comes from left and right, joining into a rich understanding.

Pairs takes a similar approach to journalist Lesley Stahl, actor Pierce Brosnan, actor Michael Douglas, and others. There are NFL players, Olympic fencers, dancers, and clowns from Cirque du Soleil. Sometimes, the images are left and right sides of a single body. The relationships are revealing. Even something as familiar as a model’s face reflected on a water surface is remade fresh here.

Human Body Study, PAIRS 106, Dancers Elijah Dillehay & Holly Wilder / Human Body Study, PAIRS 112, Dancers Erica Messonnier & John Peterson

Most of the images are relatively close to the subject, but a few, such as a location study from Point Reyes, California, a landscape shot with the paired couple in the mid-ground distance, embrace a larger context. 

The most wonderful thing about this book is that it really does ask for a different sort of viewing or reading. The conversation within every image that calls our attention becomes the narrative of the image. 

Underwater Study, Dancer Katita Waldo, San Francisco Ballet / Underwater Study 225, Dancer Heather Nahser

Many of the images are black and white, elegant in their use of tone, shadow, and light. Most of the images, however, are in vibrant color. Some of the images are playful with elongated arms and legs, and some get very close, such as two images of human eyes simply called Beauty Study. Placed verso and recto, the cropping is only the eyes and part of the nose. One in cool blues, the other in warm reds. One is the expected orientation, eyes above the nose, while the other is upside down. 

Powder Study 1021, Model Belinda Baidoo / Beauty Study 1126, Model Emilie Adams

The book also explodes with a sense of kinetic energy, with how the sides relate to each other. Because we are always exploring the pairings, engaging with the book is active and personally rewarding.

Surprise and delight, indeed. That’s what Schatz promises, and that’s what this book delivers on every page.

Finally, the book design deserves a special bit of praise. The book’s interior title page gives design credit to Spacher Studio and post-production credit to John Early. This is not the overly sized and cumbersome coffee table book, nor is it a slight little thing to throw in a backpack.  It’s both heavy and small, substantial at every level. The captions are at the bottom of every page, well integrated into the feel of the page. Looking at the pages as they journey back and forth from color to black and white, from warm to cool tones, from light to dark settings, is to see another layer of narrative, is to never feel abrupt or disjointed. I have rarely seen such a well-designed book. 

NBN Study 1251, Models Tabitha Garza & David Berridge / BodyKnot 187

It’s easy to tell you what Pairs is about.  It’s about two things put in the same viewing. But that’s about as accurate as saying love is when two people like each other very much. Pairs is an extraordinary look at relationship, a high-concept and sophisticated invitation to consider the between and around, and within us all.

A note from FRAMES: Please let us know if you have a forthcoming or recently published photography book.

Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation. Learn more >>>

Comments (2):

  1. Jaffer Bhimji

    December 30, 2023 at 14:07

    Thank you for such a fine review.

  2. IRIS brosch

    January 10, 2024 at 18:05

    love!! powerful images!


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