David Lubarsky: An Innovative Photographer Finds Success for His Clients and Himself
November 26, 2018
What do Ashton Kutcher, Michael Bloomberg, Maria Bartiromo, Phyllis Diller, Elliot Spitzer, and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin have in common? They’re among the many cultural, business and political heavyweights whose portraits have been captured by virtuosic New York photographer David Lubarsky.
Over a career spanning more than three decades, David has seen and done it all— from portraits of the rich and famous to corporate and architectural photography. His photographs have appeared in such exalted publications as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Money, Forbes, Business Week, and Barron’s, among others. Today, operating from his studio and office at Suite 1404, 1133 Broadway, David is always in high demand. He says, “Most of my work today is for law and financial services firms. “Executive and environmental portraits, corporate lifestyle images for websites, annual reports, brochures and corporate collateral materials.”
Among the clients for whom David has worked are: Cravath Swaine & Moore, Sidley Austin, Jones Day, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Skadden Arps, Mercedes-Benz, Edelman Worldwide, NYU Langone Medical Center, Museum of Modern Art and New Museum of Contemporary Art. These represent a small fraction of an enormous list that attest to the quality of his work.
How does a seasoned pro like David flourish in the highly competitive photography field when anyone with an iPhone can claim to be a photographer? The answer: thorough preparation, persistence at getting every detail right, innovation and, perhaps most importantly, connecting with people.
Persistence and Innovation
Every photographic situation involves a challenge and some may seem insurmountable–but not for David. The reason is simple: he will not settle for second best no matter what it takes – leaning out over the edge of a building, jerry-rigging equipment, moving furniture or studying light patterns before the shot. His goal is never to just get a shot taken, it is to make each exposure noteworthy and finished to the highest professional standards.
Recently, David has completed several photoshoots for Kew Management, including photos for the company’s website. Richard Falk from Kew who worked with David on these assignments noted, “I have worked with renowned photographers for more than 40 years, and David is the most detailed-oriented photographer I have worked with, and the one with the keenest sense of composition and insight. He’s easy to work with, because he is committed and resourceful.”
Making a Personal Connection
David has a winning personality that puts people at their ease, but with years of experience he also has many ways of making the tensest sitter loosen up.
When David was preparing to photograph former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine for a magazine cover, he had allotted 30 minutes for the shoot. The governor (and former senator) not only arrived late but said gruffly that he’d only sit for five minutes. While powdering Corzine’s face, David said he admired legislation to repeal the death penalty that Corzine had sponsored. The governor immediately changed his tune. “You know about that?” Corzine asked, surprised. “Take as much time as you need!”
Similarly, when David was preparing to shoot a portrait of Robert Klein for A&E Network, the iconic comedian was not entirely enthusiastic. But David knew Klein had grown up in the same Bronx neighborhood as his parents and told the celebrity he had even been to the David Marcus Theater on Jerome Avenue, where Klein spent countless hours as a kid. “He was surprised and thrilled I knew about the old neighborhood theater, and his tone completely changed,” David recalls. “Klein then said, ‘I’m yours!’ The shoot went very well.”
The key is to “do your homework,” David says. “Take the time to find out what makes your subject tick–connect with people as people.” The results are clear in David’s portraits. Subjects look their best: relaxed & engaged.
His Drive has Led to Success in Photography and Life
David’s success is no chance occurrence. His indomitable spirit has resulted in great work for his clients and success for himself.
In the late 1970s, before he had even finished his fine arts degree in photography from the School of Visual Arts, he was taking on freelance assignments photographing works of art for museums and galleries. “As a new freelancer, I could apply my technical and aesthetic skills and still making a living, with the hope that some gallery owner would notice my work.”
Then he received a challenge that would have defeated others. “Within six weeks of opening my first studio, I had a brain hemorrhage. It’s called an AVM, an arteriovenous malformation.” David was one of the first AVM patients to receive microsurgery, and one of the few who actually survived without any lingering problems. But the health crisis forced him out of work for several months. “Fortunately, my clients stayed with me. I still had work when I came back.”
Finding New Business Models to Succeed
More determined than ever, he spent the next two years building up three new portfolios of work: An editorial/portrait/portfolio, an architectural interior/exterior portfolio and a public relations portfolio.
David recognized that by shooting editorial, the photographer owns the copyright for the one-time use in a magazine. Additionally, the subject of a portrait, or their company, often wants to purchase the rights to use the photo elsewhere, which provides an additional source of income for that image.
That’s what happened when David photographed Robert Rubin, then the chairman of Citicorp, for a magazine cover. A year after the shoot, Rubin’s staff wanted to use the image again for the cover of his upcoming book on his earlier time as treasury secretary in the Clinton Administration. By owning the copyright to the image, David could charge a licensing fee for each use. “Controlling the image’s use is a key factor in generating additional exposure & income,” he says. “Artists should never give away their copyrighted work.”
Meanwhile, many of the companies observed how David worked with the executives during the editorial shoots, so he started picking up assignments from them directly. “It was a great business model, and soon enough I had a collection of clients in the law and financial world.
Continuing to Meet Challenges
What bigger challenge has there been to the entire creative world than the digital revolution? It affected all art expression, but perhaps, none more so than photography. On one hand, there was so much new to learn, from the enhanced results produced from digital cameras to the innumerable details of how to size images, store them, send them to clients in online galleries, and alter them post-production. David, with his enthusiasm, sense of wonder and computer savvy, made all of these transitions easily. But the change also had an impact on his bottom line . . . at least temporarily.
David recalls, “When affordable digital cameras hit the market, some of my clients said, ‘Well, you know, we don’t really need your services anymore. We’re just going to hand the point-and-shoot digital camera to our IT guy to get the shots.’” “I said, ‘Please keep in mind that it’s not the camera that makes a good photograph, it’s the creative eye behind the camera.’ Within six months, those same firms came back, saying, ‘You know, you’re right, it’s not the camera.’”
Inspired by NoMad
In 2014, after 31 years at his 20th Street studio, David was forced to move when the building was sold and his rent quadrupled. That led him to the NoMad neighborhood, a move which he says has been both convenient and inspiring.
Madison Square Park has been the Mecca of modern photography. “Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen made those iconic pictures of the Flatiron building at the turn of the 20th Century; Steiglitz also founded the famous 291 Gallery and The Photo-Secession movement, which met in the neighborhood. For me, it’s a meaningful connection and an inspiring place.”
Beyond his commercial photography, David has always pursued his own fine art work.
Among his favorite subjects is his interest in “transit”-themed images. Some of the images from this study are in the permanent collections of the Museum of the City of New York and the New York City Transit Authority. You may have even seen them in subway ads. David’s transit photos also garnered him a one-man show. Awarded by MTA Arts for Transit (now called MTA Arts & Design) the show was entitled “InTransit” @ Grand Central Terminal’s 42nd Street East Passage, July 1992.
Soon after settling into his studio space in 1133, David found a new personal fine-arts project to pursue. “I had this beautiful view of the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral from my fifth floor office, so I started shooting images every day–from various angles at different times and seasons, capturing the changes in lighting and weather,” he says. Then, in May 2015, the church was destroyed by fire which David continued to photograph the aftermath. “About a year and a half ago, I moved from the fifth floor to the 14th, on the same side of the building, so now I’m looking down at the church and photographing its reconstruction, a progression I hope to present in a book or show.”
As Always, Looking Forward
I’m incredibly fortunate to have an amazing partner, my wife Sarah, and I have two grown daughters who are gems, both married to artists, too. I continue to be excited by the challenge of my assignments and the thrill of so many new technological advances. It’s been a rewarding career, which I hope to enjoy for a long time to come.