Curtis Bernhardt was born in Houston, Texas. While attending the University of Houston and Museum School, he began developing his black and white pictures of the local urban nightlife and street scenes.
After three years at the Art Institute of Chicago studying painting, he moved to New York and continued his education at NYU, cuiminating in a Fine Arts Masters degree in painting. Painting representations of the human form rekindled his interest in photography.
A deep sense of the narrative in the visual arts has strongly influenced his work in fashion photography, and his background in painting contributes to the dramatic use of color and form in his photographs.