When it comes to fashion photographers, few have proven as influential, as prolific and as iconic as Victor Skrebneski. The Chicago native, and this year’s Lucie honoree for achievement in Fashion Photography, has a list of accolades that goes on and on: shooter for Glamour, Esquire and Town and Country; close personal friend of Hubert Givenchy; exclusive photographer for Estée Lauder; catalyst for Cindy Crawford’s supermodel career—the list goes on and on.
Born in Chicago in 1929, Skrebneski started off studying painting and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago and at Lázló Moholy-Nagy’s Institute of Design. A meeting with Harry Callahan, however, changed the artistic course of his life. Callahan was impressed by the young photographer’s eye and unique cropping and encouraged Skrebneski to move to New York to start his editorial career. By age twenty-three, he was shooting campaigns for Marshall Field and Company and making a name for himself as a fashion photographer, all while remaining in his beloved Chicago, an astonishing feat for someone in the fashion industry.
His loyalty to the Windy City paid off. He has become one of the city’s favorite native sons—he even has his own street, Victor Skrebneski Way. His home, where he has lived and worked for over 60 years, is filled with snapshots of some of the 20th century’s greatest cultural icons, from the fashionable to the notorious. His extensive editorial and commercial work aside, Skrebneski is perhaps best known for his “Black Turtleneck Series,” in which he captured intimate portraits of subjects from Andy Warhol and Truman Capote to Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis and Orson Welles. With his personal work, Skrebneski also made a name for himself as an innovative portraitist, experimenting with motion, shutter speed and framing to create shots with a distinctive Skrebneski flair.
A man of few words who prefers to let the pictures speak for themselves, Victor Skrebneski was kind enough to answer a few of Resource’s questions about his home, his work, and what makes him tick.
What is your earliest memory of photography?
Earliest memory? My father taking my sister and I when I was 4 or 5 years old to see a double feature silent movie, Frankenstein and Rin Tin Tin!
If you hadn’t been a photographer, what would you have done instead?
In the beginning I was an artist, painter, sculptor, designer and actor.
What excites you about photography?
Designing the photograph. The quality of the finished print.
You’re one of two honorees this year from Chicago (the other being photojournalist John H. White), and one of very few successful fashion and editorial photographers not based in New York, Los Angeles, or other fashion “hub” cities. Why was it so important to you to stay in Chicago? As a photographer, what do you love about that city?
I helped build Chicago with Mayor Daley.
One of your most famous bodies of work is the “black turtleneck series,” in which you capture a wide range of cultural icons of the 20th century. Why do you enjoy photographing celebrities? Do you find them easy or challenging to work with?
Extremely challenging and very cooperative.
You describe your work as instinctive, unplanned observation. Do you see yourself as a creator of images or as a capturer of moments that already exist but are waiting to be noticed and crystallized on film?
The answer is your question.
Resource will continue its behind-the-scenes look at the Lucie Awards throughout the week. Check back later today as we talk to humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine, and tomorrow when we speak with photojournalist John H. White!
The 2013 Lucie Awards Gala will take place this Saturday, Oct. 27, at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City at 7:00 p.m. To purchase tickets visit www.carnegiehall.org.