Legendary fashion photographer Victor Skrebneski reflects on his life’s work in style with career-spanning new tome Skrebneski Documented: 1948-2018.
Cindy Crawford, David Bowie and Iman, Bette Davis, Orson Welles, Andy Warhol, Dennis Hopper... for decades, Chicago-born and -raised photographer Victor Skrebneski has been capturing titans of fashion and pop culture in his signature sensual style, all blur and motion and raw physicality, and he’s not done yet.
“I’m photographically inspired,” says the energetic 90-year-old. His latest book, Skrebneski Documented: 1948-2018 ($150, Rizzoli, Sept. 10), started as a memoriam to his old friend Hubert de Givenchy (“I get a lump in my throat just talking about it”) but quickly became something far more, from 1948 snapshots of his sister in Cuba to sketches and paper sculptures— and, of course, his provocative nudes. “Everything there is what I do,” states Skrebneski of the book’s collected images. “That’s it. The book is personal, and every picture means something to me.” Here, the artist tells the story behind six of his most iconic shots.
ANDY WARHOL, NEW YORK, 1972
Andy Warhol as photographed by Victor Skrebneski at The Factory in 1972. (© Skrebneski Documented: 1948-2018 by Victor Skrebneski. Rizzoli New York, 2019.)
“I was at The Factory and spent the whole day with all his people that he used all the time, photographing each one separately. By the time I got to him, he was the last one, and I said, ‘Are you tired?’ He said, ‘A little bit, not much.’ So I said, ‘OK, just stand there and I’ll put the light on you and I’ll shoot it.’ And he closed his eyes and I thought that was wonderful because he was always shot with his eyes wide open. And this was him at peace with himself.”
SKREBNESKI SELF-PORTRAIT, CHICAGO STUDIO, 2013
A Victor Skrebneski self-portrait (© Skrebneski Documented: 1948-2018 by Victor Skrebneski. Rizzoli New York, 2019.)
“I say this to guys who ask me to photograph them: There’s a time in every man’s life when he should not be photographed. And that’s the story about my picture here. Cubism is my love, so I thought that was sort of a cubist look.”
KATHLEEN TURNER, CHICAGO STUDIO, 2000
Kathleen Turner (© Skrebneski Documented: 1948-2018 by Victor Skrebneski. Rizzoli New York, 2019.)
“This was probably the last exposure, and I said, ‘Kathleen, photographers have to give something to photography. You’re not giving me anything.’ She just stood there and looked this way, that way, up and down. So she said, ‘How’s this?’ And she did that.’ [laughing] I said that’s fine. And we used it.”
DENNIS HOPPER, LOS ANGELES, 1971
Dennis Hopper (© Skrebneski Documented: 1948-2018 by Victor Skrebneski. Rizzoli New York, 2019.)
“Dennis Hopper and I were old friends. He told me he wanted to go to Palm Springs to say goodbye to [film director] John Ford because Ford was dying. So I got on the back of his motorcycle for two hours riding out from L.A. to Palm Springs. When we got to the house, there was John Ford and John Huston sitting up in bed together and drinking, and we all said hello. And Dennis whispered in my ear, ‘Ask them if I can sit next to John Ford.’ And I said, ‘You ask him; you’re gonna sit there.’ And he said, ‘No, you ask them.’ So I said OK. ‘Can he sit there?’ And they said, ‘Sure, just jump in.’ So he jumped in and I took a picture of the three of them. For this one, Hopper said, ‘I don’t have anything but my clothes from Easy Rider. Can you do a picture?’ And I said yes. So that was that.”
UNTITLED, CHICAGO STUDIO, 1997
An untitled photograph that exemplifies Skrebneski’s passion for blur and grain. (© Skrebneski Documented: 1948-2018 by Victor Skrebneski. Rizzoli New York, 2019.)
“My favorite things in the world are blur and grain. I love motion, all that stuff. When I first started photographing, no one told me I had to hold the camera still. So that’s why all my pictures in the beginning were all blurry— everything out of focus and blurred and grainy, and I loved it. That went all the way through my life.”