Last year, I got to know more about the works of famed fashion photographer Herb Ritts by way of learning about one of his prior assistants, celebrity and fashion photographer Brian Bowen Smith, at a lecture called ‘What is Beauty?’ sponsored by the Annenberg Space for Photography. You can clearly see Ritt’s influence on Bowen Smith, in the use of light and his ability to obtain that elusive connection between subject and photographer. I would highly suggest to any photography aficionados to watch the video of his lecture, Bowen Smith discusses how he defines beauty, how he became an assistant to Ritts and breaks down how he created many of his shots.
This past weekend, I and a few friends went to see the Herb Ritts: LA Style exhibit at the Gettty museum. It was a beautiful and large exhibit of 87 photographs spanning much of the bottom level of the West Pavilion, and included a room where his commercials and music videos (Janet Jackson, Madonna, Chris Issak) were shown. While I’d heard of Herb Ritts over the years and recognized many of his photographs, it was fascinating to see it all in one collection and with a different context because of Bowen Smith’s lecture.
Ritts used bare skin, California’s natural light, bold shadows, and landscape as a backdrop in his pictures to set himself apart from his contemporaries in New York. His easy rapport with celebrities came from growing up next door to Steve McQueen, which in turn led to his big break via his photographs of Richard Gere on a road trip in 1977. He kept magazine editors and clients happy by mixing pictures designed to sell clothes with others that dazzled with their simple beauty. He successfully bridged the gap between art and commerce using innovation and his unique aesthetic.
Here are some of his iconic fashion photographs, a back story on a few of them are provided here:
An image from his last photoshoot is included in the show, a 2002 photo of Ben Affleck in the Mojave desert. The dusty conditions from cracked salty lake bed sickened many in the crew and Ritts, already weakened by AIDS, ended up in a hospital with pneumonia. He died a week later at the age of 50.
Be sure to check out the Herb Ritts: LA Style exhibit, its showing has been extended to September 2nd