Remembering Victor Skrebneski, the former ID student who photographed the stars

Lifelong Chicagoan received his only formal photography training at ID

By Andrew Connor

Acclaimed photographer Victor Skrebneski passed away on April 4, 2020, at the age of 90. Skrebneski studied photography at the Institute of Design between 1947 and 1949—his only formal photography training—following his studies in painting and sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Inspired by his instructors at ID, he opened his own photo studio in 1952. He specialized in fashion photography as the largest employers of commercial photographers in Chicago at the time were retailers and fashion houses. Two of his most notable projects were his decades-long collaborations with Estée Lauder and the Chicago International Film Festival.

Commercial and product photography helped launch Skrebneski’s career, but he was most lauded for his striking black-and-white portraits of musicians, actors, models, and activists. Some of his notable subjects included David Bowie, Cindy Crawford, Bette Davis, Barack and Michelle Obama, Orson Welles, Muddy Waters, and Oprah Winfrey.

Skrebneski attended ID when its photography program was in its infancy. In Bauhausian fashion, ID’s founder, László Moholy-Nagy, recognized the creative and commercial value of manipulating light through what was at the time a new technology. In the following decades ID became a hotbed for photography talent, including Skrebneski, Barbara Crane, and Aaron Siskind.

Though ID no longer offers a photography program, it maintains a pioneering spirit as it charts new territory in strategic design. ID continues to offer photography courses and embrace emerging technologies.

The way in which Skrebneski could capture his subjects, both through provocative composition and dynamic lighting, truly made him a master. His legacy will live on through those that continue to study and practice photography and as well as those who use their curiosity and creative faculties to push the boundaries of new technologies.

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