We spoke with Howard Schulman, MD, whose photography show, My Rhode Island, is currently on exhibit at BankRI in downtown Providence through September.
Cathren Housley (Motif): Which came first, the photographer or the doctor?
Howard Schulman: As far as composing pictures and capturing things I’ve seen, that was definitely something that started after I became a physician. I started putting up photographs in my waiting room and got positive feedback from unassuming patients. I had my first show at AS220 in 1999. Since, I’ve done about four shows on my own, a couple other small group shows and about seven multi-artist shows.
CH: What inspired you to begin taking pictures?
HS: I’m a curious person and do a lot of wandering around. When I came to Rhode Island, I thought the whole place was gorgeous. That’s what inspired me – and having a camera with me to record where I go and what I’m seeing is a natural fit for my lifestyle. If I do too much photography, it loses its fun, so it’s usually something that goes along with me when I am traveling or hiking or hanging out at a really cool place and exploring.
CH: Did you have any formal education in photography?
HS: After starting out, I did read or browse through a book or two and even tried a continuing education course at RISD, but I think my focus was mostly on trying to understand the mechanics – what the camera could do and how I could capture what I was seeing. The advice on photography I remember best was from Berge Zobian, owner of Gallery Z and a professional portrait photographer. He told me to aim down a little bit more and capture more foreground. It was always a fight, how much foreground to capture in landscape pictures, but Berge made me aware of it in a different way.
After I developed my own process and style I started looking at other photographers, known artists. I wanted to try and understand why people appreciated their work – why did viewers take a second look at a photograph after passing it; why did a person linger in front of a certain piece? To me, it’s always fun to spend time thinking about it. Clearly, some photographs work and others don’t – trying to capture whatever that is, is always a struggle.
CH: What other photographers do you like?
HS: I own photographs by Herb Ritts and Josef Karsh; I also like Ansel Adams and Richard Avedon. I love looking at ancient photographs over 100 years old in museums, and I’m fascinated by photographs taken of people at the beginning of photograph, from 1840 through 1860. I’ve traveled all over the United States and the world for 25 years and always I’ve gone to the museums and outdoor art fairs wherever I went, so I’ve seen a lot. On Instagram, I like looking at other Rhode Island photographers. I appreciate other people’s black and white photographs, although for my photographs I strongly prefer color. I almost can’t imagine myself taking black & white photographs.
CH: What kind of equipment do you use?
HS: Up until a couple years ago when the digital cameras became good enough, I really loved my Pentax 67 camera, medium format. The negatives were five times the size of a regular 35mm camera and held detail in bigger enlargements. Now the digital cameras can handle that and there’s something new called RAW image format, which does a job in conjunction with the computer. With film, I had always had problems with content getting hidden by dark areas and washed out in others. With this technology, I’m able to capture what I’m looking at.
CH: You had a show at BankRI with an opening planned for March 17 on Gallery Night. What happened?
HS: Before the reception, I had a strong hunch a lockdown was going to happen. It was just a question if my show would open before it did. I had already invited about everyone I knew, and Gallery Night had already arranged for a musician, food and publicity. But honestly, as a physician in the middle of the pandemic, there was so much else on my mind that the cancellation of a show that I had worked a year on and had waited over five years for, felt like a passing thought and not a major letdown.
BankRI is currently open by appointment only; the show will remain until September. For a video walk through, visit https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BOVhNnl1AJE