Herb Ritts, Vercace

Herb Ritts, Photographer of the human landscape

One of the best American photographers of his generation, Herb Ritts (1952-2002) has photographed nude models, celebrity portraits, models for major names in fashion and public figures. He revolutionized fashion photography, modernized nudity and transformed stars into unavoidable icons. He developed a distinctive style that offers a balance between his commercial production and artistic creation. Ritts has worked with iconic models of his time, including Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He saw his photos published in many magazines, including interviews, Esquire, Mademoiselle, glamour, GQ, Newsweek, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone, Time, Vogue, allure, Vanity Fair, Details and IT.

The success of each photographer requires a set of technical skills along with other qualifications. Ritts had an undisputable asset: his talent as a communicator, particularly with famous people. During his childhood in Los Angeles, Steve McQueen was his neighbor. It was through this experience that he mastered this talent: make his interlocutors comfortable without getting subjugated by their aura. He was able to have the confidence and the collaboration of his subjects.

But his main talent was his sensitivity to the physical qualities of the world around him, the light and the places that make Southern California a special place for photography. Several of his famous fashion photographs were shot outside, mainly in the vast dry deposition of the large El Mirage Lake of California.

Due to his work and to having a clear vision, Ritts rose to become one of the best photographers of the 1980’s. Ritts’ aesthetics incorporates facets of the daily life in the Los Angeles region. He often made use of California’s luminous brightness to produce images with bold contrasts. He preferred the outdoor scenes such as the desert or the beach to differentiate from the practices of the major studios in New York. The majority of his work featured the sunny skies of Southern California.

The force of his work stems from his great sense of design, simplicity, the purity of the composition lines and his understanding of the power of black and white images. He alternated between 35 mm camera and medium format, usually using a film at high contrast, the Kodak Tri-X.

His intimate portraits, his classical treatment of the modernized nude and his innovative approach for the production of fashion photos gave him an international reputation. He established a reputation similar to that of great photographers of his time, including Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Irving Penn.

From the end of the 1970’s up to the premature death of Ritts in 2002 as a result of complications related to AIDS, his capacity to create images that are successful in bridging the gap between art and trade was a testimony to the power of his imagination and his technical skills. His work also marks the synergistic union between the art, popular culture and in the crowds of the Pop Art business of the 1960’s and 1970’s.



Richard Gere San Bernardino 1977 Herb Ritts

Richard Gere 1977, San Bernardino
Richard Gere was at the dawn of fame, powered by a small role in the film “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” (1977), which attracted the critics’ attention. Things moved quickly for the two friends. Photos of this session were published on Vogue, Esquire, and Mademoiselle, dragging Ritts along in this trail of success: He then received a request to photograph Brooke Shields.


Herb Ritts avec le modèle Brooke Shields

As a result of the exposure of Richard Gere’s photos, Ritts received a request to photograph Brooke Shields. This was the launch of his career as a photographer.



Herb Ritts, Fred avec les pneux

A retake inspired by the photos made with his friend Richard Gere:
Fred with the tires, 1984
Three years earlier, Fred was a miner in a mine of Russia
Artist in the first Cirque du Soleil show “The grand tour” during a show in Los Angeles in 1984

Here is a recreation of the session “Fred with the tires” made by BBC with the photographer David Gandy: Seven photographs that Changed fashion. This video was produced in 2010 and is available on YouTube.


Herbert List (1903 – 1975)

Austere classism


Horst P. Horst (1906 – 1993)

Horst P. Horst: Underwater Fashion Fine Art Photographer

Study on the lighting techniques developed by Horst in order to create the effects of ‘clear-obscure’, strong contrasts between light and darkness by placing the areas of brightness precisely in the foreground  in front of a dark background, or on the contrary, with multiple plans in a single image.


George Hoyningen-Huene (1900 – 1968), born in Russia, moved to the United States in 1935


George Platt Lynes (1907 – 1955)

Sophisticated lighting, lyrical composition, esoteric scene

Platt Lynes has worked with the choreographe George Balanchine and his dancers

Presentation of images: The Jack B. Woody Collection: Steven Kasher Gallery



Herb Ritts "Male Nude in Bubble, 1987"

Platt Lynes has inspired Ritts in his composition “Male Nude In bubble, 1987”, spatial design, volatile, fragile, in opposition to his chiseled and strong body.

The Human Landscape

Herb Ritts

“Versace dress, view of the back, El Mirage (1990)” used the great depth of the land to his advantage. This image illustrates Ritts’ capability to dramatize fashion. “The view of the back” illustrates his acute sense of design to create spectacular graphics with the black fabric of the dress that forms a swollen and dark shape at the top of the image, attracting the observers’ gaze towards the torso of the model. The model is standing with only one leg that’s visible, reproducing the shape of a martini glass, focusing the attention of the observer to the torso of the model, which is placed higher than the faded horizon line.




In “Versace veiled dress, El Mirage (1990),” (model: Naomi Campbell) Ritts assigns to the landscape a different role. The wind foreshadows the beginning of a storm rushing down on the bed of the lake. The wind is blowing towards the right, dynamically animating the garment. The background on the left of the image shows slightly the presence of the San Bernardino mountain chains, its summits reproducing the contours of the model that are based in the fluidity of the black fabric of the dress. The model’s pose with the arms raised in defiance of the wind allows the highlighting of the molding of the fine fabric on the body.




Madonna (1986), image inspired by Olivia Newton John’s portrait for her album “physical” produced in 1981


Photo de la couverture de l'album Physical, d'Olivia Newton John, qui a inspéré Ritts avec sa photo de Madonna

Cover photo of the album Physical (1981) , by Olivia Newton John

References, Herb Ritts

Getty Museum Collection

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2015

Exhibition: Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity’ at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, 2013

Chuck DeLaney, Herb Ritts’s Stars Shine Brightly In Career Retrospective Photography Show, 2015

Artsy, Herb Ritts, 

Herb Ritts,L.A. Style, You Tube 2012

Video, Herb Ritts

Madonna, Cherish, 1989

Madonna, Like a Prayer, 1989

Janet Jackson, Love Will Never Do

Michael Jackson – In the Closet, with Naomi Campbell



No Comments

Post a Comment