Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1959, Bill Schwab’s fascination with photography began at an early age. With a Kodak Brownie and a home darkroom kit received as a gift from his father, he taught himself to process film and contact print at age twelve.
Following a high school curriculum emphasizing the arts, his extended education began in 1978 at Central Michigan University Art School. From there he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography in 1983, but not before taking a year off to go to New York to apprentice under and assist commercial/fine art photographer Alen MacWeeney. He had become familiar with the photographer’s work through the pages of Aperture and American Photography and saw in it a similar style to his own. After sending several samples of his work to MacWeeney with inflated hopes of a favorable response or critique, the photographer was impressed enough to offer Schwab an assisting position if he could get to New York. Jumping at the chance he quit school and, within a week, was on a plane bound for the city.
It was while working under MacWeeney that he began to learn the art of evocative lighting and further developed his technique of fine printing, eventually becoming entrusted to make finish prints for the artist. It was also here in New York that a deeper interest in the urban landscape began to take shape as well and it was from Schwab’s rooftop in Brooklyn that he made some of his earliest nighttime exposures of lower Manhattan.
Although his style has gradually developed and progressed over the years, the common theme that threads through this growing body of work has been that of the urban landscape. With the camera he makes study of urban culture, past and present, through architecture and artifact. Working mainly in lower light situations, he shoots mostly in early morning and at night emphasizing an abstract, ethereal quality in the images. He has spent extensive time over the years on several extended projects and commissions including ongoing work on Belle Isle, a unique island park in the Detroit River border between the US and Canada. The industrial Rouge River basin anchored by Henry Ford’s historic Rouge Plant and the ruins of northern Michigan’s long abandoned copper mining industry in the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Now, as Schwab’s work becomes more widely known, it is in turn becoming part of a growing number of private, public and corporate collections. Recently completed was a project commissioned by Fox Sports to “capture the soul and spirit” of the historic stadiums and ballparks of the US. This project has culminated in a permanent exhibit of more than 60 photographs hung in the Fox corporate headquarters in Los Angeles.