And no, it’s not Welles’ incredible girth nor the acting abilities of Bette Davis that I have in common with these two legends, but rather it’s something I’ve just been able to cross off my bucket list. Recently, I was shot by the world famous photographer Victor Skrebneski just as these two bold-faced icons have been along with scores of other lucky subjects! And it all came about thanks to Sherren Leigh, the hard-working, silver fox founder of Today’s Chicago Woman Magazine who chose me to appear on her October cover for TCW’s 31st anniversary issue. When I heard the news I screamed so loud, I busted my cab driver’s eardrums but I didn’t care. I was too excited for words! A) To be on the cover of TCW and B) to have it shot by Victor! Two dreams come true in one phone call. I was floating on a cloud.
Then, of course, trepidation set in…..omgoodness. I had heard Victor was a little difficult to work with since he is such a perfectionist. I also knew stylists who shook in their shoes around him. And, add in the fact that I’m not exactly a 5’10” 110 lb. supermodel to begin with and you can see why I was nervous! As a matter of fact, back in the ’70’s when I was a beginning model in Chicago, my agent sent me to his studio for a “go-see.” Even then, having Victor shoot a photo of you was considered the holy grail of the industry. To be shot by him said you had arrived and in a very big way. Well, I was flatly rejected. He wouldn’t even look at me …..I remember Jovanna Papadakis, who was his right hand woman at the time, even apologized to me as she was hoping he would agree to see me, too, but no such luck. Sun-Times writer Larry Findley said in Jovanna’s obituary that she was “the stern gatekeeper who protected the inner sanctum of Victor Skrebneski’s famous photography studio.” Her friend Camilla Hawk said, “”The models shuddered in their boots when they walked in. Her reputation spread far and wide that she was a fearsome taskmaster. No model got past her to show their book to Victor. She would take the book, and if she thought it was appropriate, she would show it to him.” Well, luckily, she must’ve found mine appropriate since she did show it to him but still he wouldn’t see me. Now, more than 30 years later, here I am being shot by Victor. A dream come true albeit it was a long wait.
As I pulled into his driveway on LaSalle, I purposely slowed down and had the top down on my car hoping someone would see me pulling in. Silly I know but this is how damn excited I was. When I opened the big, imposing wooden door, there was Dennis Minkel, Victor’s assistant and studio manager, with a big grin on his face….I relaxed. And then there was Victor, also with a big smile, and I knew I was among friends. Suddenly, my worries about squeezing into a too tight Herve Leger dress were behind me and I could only focus on the studio and the legends who had been shot there and the decor. All in shades of white and beige, with his famous portraits dotting the walls , it was truly an honor and a privilege to be invited inside. Sherren was there as well as four beautiful models who would be shooting the fashion feature. Representatives from A. Marek jewelers were on hand, too, including an imposing security guard who followed me everywhere once I’d been layered in their exquisite diamond necklaces.
The photography space was all white with a step-down that I’m sure has brought many a client and model to their knees as their eyes scanned the room and not the floor as they entered. The lighting was deceptively simple …..clearly, here was a man who didn’t require a bank of white lights to make someone look good. No, this lighting was for a genius who knew exactly what he wanted before he shot it and knew what it would look like before he even snapped his Hasselblad’s shutter. This was not a photographer who took all day long to get one shot. This was a legend who took 6 shots and stopped when he knew he had what he wanted. I was in awe. Even after the cover shot, when he cleared the studio for a private portrait, there was no time wasted. As Frank Sinatra played in the background, the shot took just a few lighting adjustments and an arch of my back for Victor to say, “We have it.”
I’ve never worked with anyone so sure of himself in all of my years in the business. And there have been quite a few since I started at age 13 but no one has ever come close to Victor and his genius. Now I happily know what all of the fuss is about…….
Victor and Sherren made a dream come true and I am forever grateful.
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