Born in Paris in 1959, Brenner attended the Sorbonne, where he received a B.A. in French Literature and Social Anthropology in 1981. He later studied at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and earned an M.A. in Social Anthropology awarded by the Sorbonne.
In 1978, at the age of 19, Brenner embarked on his first photography project, an exploration of Mea Shearim, an Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem. The project, which portrays how these Jews from Eastern Europe recreated diaspora in Israel, became Brenner’s first book, Jérusalem: Instants d'Éternité, published in Paris.
In 1981, Brenner began photographing Jewish communities around the world, exploring what it means to live and survive with a portable identity and how Jews adopted the traditions and manners of their home countries and yet remained part of the Jewish people. From Rome to New York, India to Yemen, Morocco to Ethiopia, Sarajevo to Samarkand, he spent 25 years chronicling the diaspora of the Jews. Along the way, he published five books and directed three films (Marranos, Madres de Desaparecidos, Tykocin), brought together in one DVD also called Diaspora. He also began to show his work in museums and galleries around the world. He has been represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York since 1990.
Brenner’s opus Diaspora: Homelands in Exile was published as a two-volume set of photographs and texts by Harper Collins in 2003. It won a National Jewish Book Award for Visual Arts in 2004. It also appeared in four foreign editions. Diaspora was also a major exhibition, which opened in New York at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2003 and traveled to nine other cities in the United States, Europe, and Mexico. In reviewing the book, The New Yorker wrote, “Brenner's work—elegiac, celebratory, irreverent—transcends portraiture, representing instead a prolonged, open-ended inquiry into the nature of identity and heritage.”