Herb Ritts was one of the world’s most sought-after fashion photographers. With his powerful imagery he also developed into a popular portrait composer, getting models and artists to reveal their true selves. The Exhibition “In Full Light” at Fotografiska runs through February 15.
Herb Ritt was born in California into a well-to-do family, and with Steve McQueen as his
next-door neighbour, Herb Ritts grew up at a time when the cult of the body began to emerge. Herb lived a carefree life wiyhout specific plans for the future, but he completed economics degree from Bard College in upstate New York, studied art history and then began working in his family’s furniture company.
A puncture while driving around the desert with his friend Richard Gere in their Buick Le Sabre radically changed Ritts’ life. He took some casual photos of Richard Gere, sweaty in a white singlet, cigarette provocatively in mouth, while he was changing tires in a garage in San Bernardino and before long the major fashion magazines wanted to employ him.
He exhibited for the first time in the show Working in LA., sponsored by the lifestyle magazine Interview. Then came fashion shoots for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, and music videos for, among others, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Chris Isaac.
He has worked with fashion companies such as Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Versace and Giorgio Armani, and contributed to international publicity campaigns for Chanel, Lancôme, Revlon and Cartier, always with his trademark stylistic virtuosity.
With a graphically perfected aesthetics he created his own glamorous universe. Transgressing boundaries, blending male forms and female strength, he created erotic and sensually elegant arrangements. His images may be body-fixated but they are never stereotyped; rather they express a love for form, color, harmony and light.
“I’ve always had a fondness for and innate sensitivity to light, texture, and warmth. I abstract it in my photographs: I like large planes and spaces, areas of texture and light, like deserts or oceans or monumental places,” Ritts explained.
Ritts’ images often contain a sense of humor and a smile – they are tongue-in-cheek and feature unaffected emotions. Reading his comments in his successful book, “Notorious”, one discovers a self-distance and a relaxed approach to the famous people he depicted.
Two days after Christmas Eve 2002, Herb Ritts died from pneumonia at the age of 50. He is remembered as one of the major lifestyle photographers of the ‘80s and ‘90s. He loved people and it shows in his images. “Basically, I fell into photography. I literally bought a little camera and went on vacation and started taking pictures of friends of mine and I guess I had an eye.” is how Ritts explained his success.
Feature image on top: Pierre and Yuri by Herb Ritts January 26, 2015