Born in Decatur, Arkansas in 1916, Holub studied art at the Chicago Art Institute and continued his studies at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute) where he taught drawing. Soon photography became increasingly more integral to his artistic pursuits and before long it was his sole focus. He befriended and worked alongside Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, Jo Sinel, and others. And though he learned much from these photographers, he had his own vision from the start. During his many years of photographing, Holub's approach has ranged from carefully planned large-format landscape and architectural shots to more spontaneous 35mm street-scene photos that are captured within an instant.
Leo Holub has lived in and photographed San Francisco since the 1930s. He worked at Stanford University for twenty years from 1960-1980, where he founded the photography program in the Department of Art and Art History. In those years, the program attracted more than 4,000 students, many of whom became influential teachers, curators and photographers all over the country.
Holub's images focus almost entirely on the Bay Area, and specifically San Francisco and Stanford. And yet his work is not a documentation of the area, but instead is a highly personal vision, which captures the people with a sympathetic warmth and respect. His images are unique shots of people: Students, faculty, civilians, pedestrians, children involved in their everyday life. And because of this sensitive and straightforward approach to his subjects, Holub's work has a nerve that resonates with viewers and transcends time.
In the 1980s private art collectors Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, whose legendary collection emphasizes modern and contemporary American artists, commissioned Holub to take more than 100 photographs of artists in their studios and living spaces. The project lasted more than a decade and include portraits of names like Robert Rauchenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Rucha and Helen Frankenthaler.