Herb Ritts was an American fashion photographer who concentrated on black-and-white photography and portraits, often in the style of classical Greek sculpture.
Born in Los Angeles in 1952, Ritts grew up living and working among the celebrities of the day.
He began his career in the family furniture business. His love for photography became only became serious after he took some casual photo’s of his good friend Richard Gere, who was just getting started as an actor, which unexpectedly appeared in American Vogue, Esquire, and Mademoiselle. The next thing, Ritts was asked to photograph Brooke Shields.
Within a few years he was regularly getting offers for covers from Vanity Fair, Vogue, GQ, and Harper’s Bazaar and was doing ads for Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, and Revlon.
Even with his quick rise to fame, Ritts never shied away from controversy. He always tried to get the photographs he wanted, not necessarily what the client dictated.
His images often challenged standard notions of race and sexuality, whether through his Calvin Klein ads with Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss or his pin-up of Naomi Campbell or the images of Cindy Crawford shaving KD Lang.
The people he photographed trusted him; they knew he was going to make them look good. Cindy Crawford once said, “…the way Herb photographed you is the way that you wished you looked when you got up in the morning.”
Elizabeth Taylor called him one of the most brilliant photographers she’d ever worked with.
Ritts’ portraits were different from his fine art or commercial work. He wasn’t trying for beauty, but rather showing the personality of the person. No matter how many beautiful people he worked with, he found the most interesting ones were the ones who had character, the ones who had persevered and lived an interesting life. He was looking for something different. He said, “It’s what’s inside that you project outwardly.”
In his photographs of people like Michelle Pfeiffer, Jack Nicholson and Philip Seymour Hoffman you can see his sense of humor, that he wasn’t always a “serious artist”.
Ritts’ work extended beyond photography. In 1989 Madonna kept was urging him to move into videos. She finally talked him into doing her music video, “Cherish”. This started a whole new journey for him. He realized he could not only make magic with the still image, but moving images as well. He said it was invigorating and that working with a mixture of visual mediums “hones your eye even more so”.
His work won him two MTV Video Awards for videos he did with Janet Jackson and Chris Isaak. Just because he had found a new media to work with did not signal the end of his photography career, however. He continued shooting right up until the end of his life.
Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1989, Ritts caught pneumonia and died in 2002 at the young age of 50. Although this was not the pneumonia associated with AIDS, his weakened immune system meant he could not shake it off.
Via: Faded + Blurred