Art Streiber: Tell Me What You Want Me To Do

For the past two decades, Los Angeles-based photographer Art Streiber has been documenting the who’s who of Hollywood and beyond, with his portrait and entertainment photography gracing the covers and inside pages of magazines from Vanity Fair, Esquire and Entertainment Weekly, to Wired, Fortune and Rolling Stone. He has also put his camera to work for many of the major television networks and film studios. Streiber’s clean graphic aesthetic, technical prowess, professional demeanor and mental acuity bring a sense of calmness and confidence to the often frenetic handler-handheld world of “Hollywood.” The son of a banker might well have inherited the traits that have given his career such a solid foundation. The trust built upon years of successful pressure-packed assignments helps Streiber push through barriers that can impede a creative shoot.

DPP: You often work with groups of celebrities such as the stars of Last Vegas—Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline—for AARP Magazine. How did you approach putting these megastars into a single frame?

Streiber also likes to create photos that evoke a particular era as in this photo of Bryan Cranston.

Art Streiber: There are a number of technological and aesthetic hurdles to overcome when photographing any group and certainly when you’re photographing a group of celebrities. The cast of Last Vegas shoot was in New York, and we had very limited time with our subjects because they’re all very well known and overscheduled. The hurdles start with coming up with an idea and a setting in which we’re going to place these people. So I brainstorm with the client and my set designer and come up with a look, a feeling and an aesthetic. With the cast of Last Vegas, we opted for classic tuxedos in terms of wardrobe and finally landed on the idea of photographing them in a bar. We were inspired by the Slim Aarons photo of Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart. The idea was to really get these guys to hang out. My set designer had to find, build and stock a bar in the Pier 59 Studio in Manhattan, and then my crew and I had to light the bar to make it look as legitimate as possible. I’m always interested in a lighting look that’s appropriate and natural-looking unless I’m going for something very aggressive. In addition to the bar set, we had to do a cover, so we created two additional sets, one with a white background and the other with a blue background. With the four A-list actors shooting on three sets, our total time with them was an hour. We got into the studio at 8 a.m. to build and light the sets so everything was nailed down and we could move from one set to another when the actors were ready at 6 p.m. If we have a limited budget, that might mean moving power packs between sets.

I’m looking for the group to have a dynamic, for the group to rise and fall and have depth so that your eye keeps traveling through the frame.

DPP: How do you make the shot dynamic with the group in front of you?

Streiber: It’s my job not only to coordinate every one of the subjects in front of me, but to make sure that it comes together cohesively—to make sure that it feels like an organic group. I don’t want my group photos to feel like I’m photographing a football or soccer team, lining them up shoulder to shoulder. I’m looking for the group to have a dynamic, for the group to rise and fall and have depth so that your eye keeps traveling through the frame. I’m charged with following the performance of every single person in the group and looking at everybody individually, as well as the group in its entirety. That’s a specialty that I’ve developed over the years by studying what works and doesn’t work in my pictures and the pictures of others—figuring out that in order to make a group really work, you have to break it up into smaller groups.

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