He could be grouchy but Richard Stromberg’s photography knowledge was unmatched and, during a teaching career that stretched more than 45 years, his tough love with students helped build a large following.
Stromberg, a lifelong Chicagoan, died Friday morning at age 66 in Presence St. Francis Hospital in Evanston after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer, his wife Heidi Levin confirmed.
His achievements include the 1969 founding of a Jane Addams Center/Hull House photography program that spanned more than three decades. In 2002, he helped launch the Chicago Photography Center and, seven years later, he founded his own photography school.
Stromberg estimated having taught and mentored 25,000 students over the years. His courses covered everything from aperture settings to ethics, from color printing to the photographer’s psychological relationship with the subject. During introductory sessions, he liked to say: “I won't teach you to take fuzzy pictures here. For that, you need to spend thousands of dollars at the School of the Art Institute.”
When not teaching, Stromberg squeezed in time for his own photography, which ranged from fashion assignments to investigative journalism in publications such as the Chicago Reporter. He took special pride in turning his camera against “institutional racism,” as he put it, including photos that helped expose ill-equipped Chicago Fire Department ambulances on the city’s South Side.
Stromberg was also a big fan of WBEZ. A few years ago, he started training journalists from the station, at no charge, to help improve the photography on its website. “He never let me leave his studio without catching up with me on how the station was doing and things he loved and hated about us,” North Side Bureau Reporter Odette Yousef said. “He knew every reporter’s name.”
“He created a committed community of lifelong photography learners and teachers,” Yousef said. “That’s the best testament to his passion for photography and to his belief that anyone could learn it.”