TheeBlog Q&A Sessions: Art Streiber

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview

Today is a special day! I recently posted the amazing work of Art Streiber (here) and today I am extremely proud and static to share a very personal and inspiring interview with this extremely talented Photography legend. Art’s work has been featured in almost every magazine you can think of, he has photographed every celebrity in Hollywood and has worked with all major movie and television networks. Even if you’ve been living under a rock and are not familiar with his name, I am sure you’ll recognize his work from a movie poster, network show or magazine spread. I have always been a huge fan of his work, and having the honor and pleasure of meeting and interviewing him has been an unforgettable experience that I am sure you’ll enjoy as much as I did.

Art Streiber’s work is the type that makes you dream of making it big someday, the type that inspires you and pushes you to work harder and be better. His enormous talent and amazing -and humble- personality makes him an even bigger superstar and legend. Thank you again Art for making this experience an unforgettable one and for taking the time to deal with me and the constant emails as well as answering my questions in a truly detailed and personal level. Hope you enjoy it!

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview1

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview2

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview3

Allow me to begin by thanking you again for accepting my invitation and for taking the time to answer a few questions considering you are preparing for a shoot next week. I must admit and share with everyone that I was stunned when I received your email this week. It’s not everyday that one gets to exchange emails or phone conversations with iconic Photographers of your caliber.

What would be the best way to introduce or describe you and your work?

I am very fortunate to be able to do portrait and reportage photography for a variety of magazines and do commercial entertainment work for a number of movie studios and television networks.

Was Photography your ‘calling’ since you were a kid or was it something that you discover later on?

My father was a banker, and I never really understood what he did every day at work (and now I know that sitting at my desk and moving papers around is an essential part of my workflow). When he retired, my father became my Business Manager and now I completely understand what he does all day and how important it is to keep my business running smoothly.

My great grandfather and grandfather owned LA’s only wholesale magazine distribution company and when I visited their warehouse as a kid, and saw all of the glossy magazines and paperbacks, I was mesmerized. From TIME to Playboy…I was hooked.

That same grandfather was a very advanced amateur photographer who had his own darkroom. When I was in 8th grade, he sold me and my brother a Canon AE-1 and a 50mm lens for $8.00. I spent a lot of time with him in the darkroom, developing tri-x and plus-x and making black & white prints.

I loved that photography was both creative and results-based. I loved that you could actually see and evaluate what you had just done with the camera and I loved the technical problem-solving aspect of working with (and attempting to harness) light.

I went on to become the photography editor at my high school newspaper and yearbook, and against my grandfather’s advice, devoted myself to photography in college, shooting for the college newspaper. I was the photography editor of the paper for two years, then did a series of internships and traineeships until landing a job as a staff photographer in the LA Bureau of Fairchild Publications, the publisher of Women’s Wear Daily and W Magazine.

I was working side by side with my then-fiance (now my wife), who was the fashion editor in the LA office. After two and half years in the LA Bureau, we were transferred to the Milan office where we were spent four years as co-Bureau Chiefs.

As a staff photographer, I had to shoot portraits, fashion, fashion shows, travel, interiors, parties, store openings, still lifes and food. Basically, I had to shoot anything and everything that came down the pike.

We moved back to Los Angeles at the end of 1993 and I’ve been freelancing ever since.

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview4

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview5

TheeBlog-ArtStreiber6

TheeBlog-ArtStreiber13

With many years in this field, you are a very well known and respected Photographer. Your successful career and work has always been synonymous with elegance, creativity and splendid quality. To what would you attribute your success?

My uncle was the VP of Development in the Stanford Athletic Department, dealing with a lot of very important donors who made a lot of “suggestions” / demands on his office. He told me that he always answered the phone by saying, “The answer is ‘yes’. Now what’s the question?”

I’ve taken that mantra to heart and as much as I can, have attempted to meet ALL of my clients demands. And my training at W and WWD in both Milan and LA rounded out my comfort level with a huge variety of subject matter.

I also appreciate how stressful my clients’ jobs are and as much as possible, my Studio Manager, Rachel Goldman and First Assistant, Elaine Browne, and I attempt to ease their burden throughout the production and post-production process.

As for “elegance, creativity and quality”, thank you, and I have to say that’s how I want to portray my subjects…elegantly. My creativity is born out of wanting the imagery to be smart and sophisticated and the quality comes from my double-Virgo perfectionism.

Often, after an image is published, I review the tear sheet a few times, looking for imperfections and considering other things we might have done differently on the shoot.

You have won many awards, but in 2005, you were named one of the “100 Most Important People in Photography” by American Photo magazine. Do you see your work differently or change the way you live or work after such honorable mention?

The only thing that changed is that I realized that I had to live up to that distinction. I am constantly analyzing my work and all of the other photography in the marketplace to make sure that I am creating imagery that is current and relevant.

There are many adages in this business and one of them is, “Your only as good as your last assignment.” My name is on my work and I take that very seriously.

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview7

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview10

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview9

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview11

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview8

Many people know who you are and the impressive collection of work under your belt, but how about we talk about something not many people might know. You have been photographing the Academy Awards -privileged backstage- for over 10 years. How did this happen and how would you rate this experience after all this time?

I LOVE photographing the Academy Awards and hope to be able to have the opportunity to do it for years to come. Initially, Premiere Magazine had the exclusive assignment to be backstage at the Oscars and they went thru four other photographers before I was asked to shoot it in 2000.

When Premiere closed, In Style got the exclusive and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been able to work on it for the last decade. I’m backstage and in the house and on the red carpet for four days leading up to and the night of the Oscars. I have great access and love documenting the entire process of putting on the show.

I’m sure there must be numerous backstage anecdotes, but is there one that you can describe as your favorite?

There are way, way too many moments of sheer disbelief every year, so I’ll just mention one… Watching (and photographing) Steven Spielberg hug Martin Scorsese after Scorsese won Best Director in 2007 for “The Departed.” And then they both were moved to tears.

I read once that the Jack Nicholson and Nicholas Cage smoking a cigarette backstage photo was one of your Oscars favorites. Considering you have shot most of these celebrities already, how easy or hard is it to approach them or shoot them on their ‘natural’ state?

When I’m backstage, the actors and actresses may not immediately be able to place me because it’s so removed from the context of our having worked together previously.

But they are there to rehearse or present (or as a nominee) and I try as much as possible to blend into the background so that I can capture memorable moments and stay out of their way and out of the way of the production.

And I always check with their publicists to make sure that they are okay with being photographed during rehearsal because they might not be “camera ready” or may want to focus on their lines or their stage direction and not be distracted by a still camera.

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview11a

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview12

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview13

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview14

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview15

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview16

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview17

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview18

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview19

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview20

Speaking of celebrities, let’s talk about your impressive and enviable roster. I know a few buddy Photographers that are reading this and would like to know how you got started working with so many important artists and celebrities?

Honestly, it was a very, slow and steady climb. It’s really about time and longevity and endurance and patience. Doing a great job on one shoot leads to the next shoot, which inevitably leads to the idea that it’s imperative that you do “great work” every time you pick up the camera…which brings us back to the adage I mentioned above.

With editorial work, your name is on the image, and photo editors are always scanning the competition to see who’s shooting what. There is a considerable amount of “rising to the occasion” that happens on our shoots because seven times out of ten, we’re attempting to light someone in a way, or under constraints that my crew and I have never faced before.

How would you describe these sessions? How good, bad or difficult is it to work with celebrities? And their ‘people’?

Problem solving is 60% of my job and the problems can (and do) come from just about anywhere. I empathize with actors and actresses and other “persons of note”, and the public demands that are made of them and want them to feel comfortable enough in front of my camera so that they will collaborate with me on creating the best possible imagery in the VERY limited time we have together, which is often 15 minutes.

Honestly, 97% of our celebrity shoots go very smoothly. Some actors and actresses are extremely comfortable in front of a still camera and some are extremely UNcomfortable in front of a still camera.

It’s really, really important to remember that if you’re doing portraiture, to some extent you’re a director and your subjects are relying on you to “direct” them…to make them look good and feel comfortable.

Very few people like having their picture taken. I liken it to dentistry…nobody likes to go, but sometimes you just gotta do it. So we attempt to make the experience as stress-free and as fun as possible.

Publicists and managers and agents have a job to do their numbers are multiplying, not becoming extinct. So it behooves you to work with them and try to make a convincing case for having their client hold a flaming teddy bear, wear a viking helmet or be wrapped in Christmas lights.

Is there anybody you still have not worked with yet that you would like to?

Yes! I would love to photograph President Obama…

TheeBlog-ArtStreiber2

TheeBlog-ArtStreiber11

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview21

TheeBlog-ArtStreiber20

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview22

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview23


Time to put you on the spot. Who has been your best and worst celebrity to shoot?

Way too many to mention, but I will say that Jerry Lewis kicked me and my crew out of his office after I suggested that he sit on the couch.

Being that your are Thee Art Streiber, how do you book these sessions? Do you pick up the phone and tell them you have an idea and want to work with them? Do they come to you? Is there any sort of secret negotiation?

No mystery. The assignments come from the magazine, studio or network and I am grateful every time. They call my agents at Stockland Martel who expertly juggle my calendar in order to accommodate as many of our clients as we can.

I pitch ideas to magazines as well, and 10% of the time that might even work. But the real collaboration comes when the magazine has one idea about how the shot should look and I have a completely different idea about how the shot should be done. That’s when the arts of persuasion, appeasement and patience really come into play.

How does your portrait work differ from your commercial or editorial work? Which one do you enjoy most?

With my editorial work, while I am still collaborating with the magazine editors, I have a lot more control over the look and feel of the image. With my commercial work, the clients wants and needs come first.

I enjoy them both equally because each presents different challenges and problems to solve and each is rewarding in its own way when the final imagery appears in the pages of a magazine or is enlarged for a billboard.

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview24

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview25

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview26

You have worked with important and iconic editorial and fashion magazines such as Vanity Fair, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, Wired, Fortune, Time, ESPN and Rolling Stone as well as all the big Hollywood studios and networks including ABC, CBS, NBC, HBO, CNN, Fox, TBS, TNT, The CW, MTV, SyFy Channel, Showtime, Universal Studios, Columbia-TriStar, Dreamworks, Paramount, Sony Pictures and Warner Brothers. Did you ever imagine your work would take you this far?

Imagined? Yes. But that’s part of the idea of dreaming big, setting goals and sticking with them.
Were there ever times when I thought it wasn’t going to happen? Yes.
Am I still surprised and amazed? Yes.
Are there are still dreams and milestones that I’d like to reach? Yes.

Is working with all these giant magazines or studios as fun as everybody thinks?

Yes, it’s a lot of fun, and my crew and I keep it fun because we realize that if we are lucky enough to be doing what we’re doing, that we’d better be having fun in the process. But we take it very seriously, and realize that what we get to do is a privilege.

We manage to have a good time, even on the most stressful shoots. On one of our last big shoots with the cast and producers of “American Idol” we created a side bet as to how many total people would be on the stage for the shoot and the winner who was closest with out going over answered “64″ and the correct answer was “65″.

What would you consider some of the advantages? Bigger budgets, better locations, creative freedom, the pay!?

Relatively speaking the budgets are finite and we are very careful about how we spend our client’s money. We don’t have unlimited resources and my crew and I are happy to eat sandwiches and stay at whatever hotel the client needs to book us into.

To me, the advantage of this kind of work is the opportunity to travel, to meet today’s newsmakers and create a defining portrait of them, that will, I hope, stand the test of time.

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview27

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview28

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview29

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview30

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview31

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview32

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview33

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview34

What would be your advice to all those Photographers out there trying to get discovered and featured by big publications or studios?

- Immerse yourself in the genre of photography that you’re interested in pursuing.
- Go to bookstores and stare at the photography section.
- Go to the newsstand and open EVERY SINGLE magazine that is of remote interest to you.
- Make a list of your dream clients, your nearly accessible clients and your easily accessible clients.
- Tear the mastheads out of your target magazines and put them on the wall.
- Focus your energy and break up the big tasks into bite-size pieces.
- Do incredible work.
- Make 4×6 or 3×5 prints of that incredible work and put it on the wall so you can see what you’re up to and how your work is developing.
- Keep your website CONSTANTLY updated and fresh.
- Remember that you take yourself to the next level and it’s up to you to figure out what that next level is and how to get there.
- Make sure that you have a strong sense of your own aesthetic.
- Self assign.
- Take advantage of your downtime. It’s a gift.
- Ask for help. Ask for other opinions of your work and then weigh their merit.
- Surround yourself with incredibly supportive and hardworking people and then support them in return.
- Custom Print your digital images the way we used to custom print our negatives in the darkroom. The Canon jpeg algorithms are excellent, but they shouldn’t be the last word on how you present your photograhy to the world.

Any tips on what NOT to do?

- Don’t let your website get old and musty.
- Don’t be a pest to your potential clients.
- Don’t make excuses.
- Don’t beat yourself up for an extended period of time.
- Don’t make the mistake of including an image in your portfolio or on your website that isn’t AMAZING, just because the process of creating that image was exceptionally difficult.

Being that you ARE many Photographers’ inspiration I have to ask this. Are there any past/current Photographers you admire or follow?

Irving Penn. Arnold Newman. Elliot Erwitt. Richard Avedon. Annie Leibovitz. Bruce Weber. Mario Testino. Sebastio Salgado. David Hume Kennerly. Robert Frank. David Burnett. James Nachtwey.

What inspires you?

All of the photographers listed above and… My wife and daughters. Seeing a great magazine spread or a great billboard by another photographer. Seeing amazing light somewhere, anywhere. California. Tuscany. Motion pictures. Current Events.

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview35

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview36

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview37

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview38

5 things you couldn’t live without…

My wife.
My daughters.
Italian food.
The Hollywood Bowl.
A perfectly fitted blazer, a white button down shirt and a pair of jeans.

Any parting words or advice to photographers, designers, artists, musicians or celebrities out there?

As trite as it sounds…keep shooting and develop a “voice” for yourself. Go with your first, or at least your second instinct. See the whole room and every detail in the room. And when you shoot or work or perform… you have to be OPTIMALLY PREPARED and OPTIMALLY FLEXIBLE. That’s where success lies.

THANK YOU again Art for such a wonderful opportunity and experience. It has been an honor to have you as a guest and I hope to have you back soon to talk about new work and projects.

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview39

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview40

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview41

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview42

TheeBlog-ArtStreiberInterview43



4 comments
  1. Very cool and inspiring my friend. Thank you

  2. Lucky you! What a great interview. Thanks

Leave a comment