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Remembering Victor Skrebneski Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

6 April 2020

Fashion and celebrity photographer Victor Skrebneski passed away Saturday of cancer after a 70-year career. He was 90.

Born Dec. 17, 1929, in Chicago to parents of Polish and Russian heritage, Skrebneski attended Waller High School, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

His youthful artistic prowess was encouraged by an aunt who was an actress. She suggested he collect pictures in a scrapbook.

His first camera was the one he found on a bench at Lake Shore playground. "I took it inside and gave it to the lady at the desk," he recalled. "She said if no one picked it up in a week, I could have it."

No one picked it up and Skrebneski started shooting photos.

Skrebneski opened his own studio in Chicago in 1952. But it wasn't until 1962 that he got his first big break, becoming the exclusive photographer for Estée Lauder's international ad campaign "the Estée Lauder woman."

Chicago International Film festival founder Michael Kutza asked Skrebneski for help promoting the film festival. "And he did," Kutza said. "He suddenly comes up with some photographs and they were outstanding. He helped me put it on the map."

His studio, in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood, was where he created his definitive black-and-white portraits of Hollywood stars and supermodels. He also shot for the Chicago-based Playboy magazine.

His subjects included Cindy Crawford, who he photographed when she was starting out at age 17, Orson Welles, Raquel Welch, Francois Truffaut, Audrey Hepburn, Iman and her husband David Bowie, Oprah Winfrey, Faye Dunaway, Vanessa Redgrave, Michelle and Barack Obama, plus one of his favorites, Bette Davis. Among many others.

"Working with Victor was one of the great privileges of my modeling career," Cindy Crawford said in a statement. "He was my first mentor and taught me so much about the art of modeling and photography. Those years I spent on his set under the beautiful lighting being directed by a true artist, prepared me for my life in fashion, but also, his elegance and sophistication shaped my definition of a true gentleman. He will be missed."

In 1989, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago featured an exhibit of his art and in 1999 a 50-year retrospective of his work was organized by The Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Earlier this year, Skrebneski published his 18th photo book, Skrebneski Documented: 1948-2018. Several of his previous titles are still in print as well.

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