David Drebin Photographed Hollywood’s A-List Before They Could Make a List

Published May 1, 2019

The photographer David Drebin has been hustling, like most New Yorkers do, for a very long time—25 years to be exact. Drebin has achieved success across the world, he has had almost 100 shows, from Hamburg to Miami, and has published six books. “I had my first book launch in 2007 at the Rivington Hotel in New York,” Drebin says, “but I haven’t had a show in New York, which is great. Everywhere else but New York, but that’s okay.” Across the span of his career, the Canadian-born photographer learned the importance of keeping archives, and for his latest monograph, Before They Were Famous (teNeues), Drebin looked back and found that his lens had captured some of today’s biggest names before they were, well, big names. “I was cleaning out my studio—all of my negatives, Polaroids, and contact sheets that I had from a couple years after I graduated from Parsons School of Design. I almost threw them out.” From Sandra Bernhard, the subject of his first of many shoots for Paper, to a pre-Oscar Charlize Theron, to a certain tech CEO in a black turtleneck, Drebin captured celebrities, as he likes to puts it, “when they still had a little bit of innocence to them.” Ahead of an upcoming solo exhibition at Art Angels in Los Angeles, he shares with Interview some of his favorite photos.

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STEVE JOBS, 2001

“When I went and photographed Steve Jobs I was doing a campaign in L.A. I got a call from Newsweek that said, ‘We want you to photograph the CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs.’ I never heard of him before. I flew to San Francisco, I spent a couple hours with him. That was a day before the iPod came out. I was just  photographing some CEO. Little did I know what would happen with him. He was willing to do whatever I asked him to do. He gave me as much time as I needed. He was incredible in every way. That to me is not my favorite image in the book, but it’s my favorite experience.”

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BRADELY COOPER, 2003

“I shot Bradley Cooper when he was a star of the TV show Alias. I photographed the entire cast of Alias (Jennifer Garner, Michael Vartan, Victor Garber) at this spectacular house in the Hollywood Hills. He was like, ‘Hi, I’m Bradley.’ I said, ‘I’m David. Nice to meet you.’ That’s what it was like, man. It was crazy.”

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CHARLIZE THERON, 2003

“I photographed Charlize just before she was going on a promotional tour for the movie Monster. I photographed her at Chateau Marmont in L.A. That was an unbelievable experience. Originally this was for Time Out New York. Would you believe it?”

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EMILY BLUNT, 2009

“I got to photograph Emily Blunt in my hometown of Toronto when she was doing an appearance for one of her movies. I forget, I think The Devil Wears Prada? No, it was for The Young Victoria where she plays a young Queen Victoria.”

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WENDY WILLIAMS, 2007

“I don’t even know who I photographed her for. All I know is that she was the absolute coolest. I’m not just saying that. I sent her a photograph and she wrote me a handwritten note thanking me. She was spectacular. She was one of my all-time favorites, actually. And Wendy is still relevant today, just look at her show.”

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SANDRA BERNHARD, 1997

“This was the first shoot I ever did, it was for Paper. My friend Bridget De Socio, who was the creative director of the magazine at the time, commissioned me to do like a 20-page feature. Sandra was one of the celebrities that I was commissioned to photograph. I took the subway to Broadway and basically had three minutes with her, in her dressing room.”