Herb Ritts began his photographic career in the late 70s and gained a reputation as a master of art and commercial photography. In addition to producing portraits and editorial fashion for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Interview, and Rolling Stone, Ritts also created successful advertising campaigns for Calvin Klein, Chanel, Donna Karan, Gap, Gianfranco Ferré, Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Levi’s, Pirelli, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Valentino, among others. Beginning in 1988 he directed numerous influential and award-winning music videos and commercials. His fine art photography has been the subject of exhibitions worldwide, with works residing in many significant public and private collections.
In his life and work, Herb Ritts was drawn to clean lines and strong forms. This graphic simplicity allowed his images to be read and felt instantaneously. His work often challenged conventional notions of gender or race. Social history and fantasy were both captured and created by his memorable photographs of noted individuals in film, fashion, music, politics, and society.
Ritts was committed to HIV/AIDS-related causes and contributed to many charitable organizations, among them amfAR, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation , Project Angel Food, Focus on AIDS, APLA, Best Buddies, and Special Olympics. He was also a charter member on the Board of Directors for The Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Herb Ritts passed away on December 26th, 2002.
I think a lot of the time these days people are so concerned about having the right camera and the right film and the right lenses and all the special effects that go along with it, even the computer, that they’re missing the key element.
RICHARD GERE REMEMBERS FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER HERB RITTS
I was 26 or so when I met Herb Ritts. Somehow he was in this group of actors. He was the one who was really nice to be around, unlike a lot of people in that group who weren’t, including me. Sometime in the mid-’70s, I remember him telling me that he was going to take night classes in photography. Later, I remember calling him and saying, “Let’s go riding into the desert and shoot some stuff.” The car in that shot (right) was my girlfriend’s, and we got a flat tire. That’s why it’s at the gas station. We didn’t have a sense that it was significant. We were just shooting, having fun. But it’s actually a complex photo with the juxtaposition of hard and soft and different angles.
There’s a very real reason why Herb was on top of everyone’s list of still photographers. He captured something in his subjects — an essential quality. We recognise ourselves. He had a warmth in his photographs that everyone liked.
Herb shot people he knew and had a feeling for, and if he didn’t know them, he had a respect for them. I don’t think he shot someone if he didn’t like or respect them — I don’t think he could have done it.
On set, Herb created a very easy, flowing atmosphere. He’s one of the warmest human beings I’ve ever known. He loved to use natural light, and he knew which hours of the day and which sides of the studio the light came in and how to bounce it the right way. Something that I don’t think everyone realises about Herb is that he was an artist. He did fashion photography as a job but had the soul of an artist, and he wanted that shot.
He was the kind of guy that whenever I see mutual friends who loved Herb, we start crying.