Herb Ritts life and biography

Herb Ritts picture, image, poster

Herb Ritts biography

Date of birth : 1952-08-13
Date of death : 2002-12-26
Birthplace : Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-08-27
Credited as : Photographer, portraits of celebrities,

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Ritts, Herbert, Jr. “Herb” (b. 13 August 1952 in Los Angeles, California; d. 26 December 2002 in Los Angeles, California), prominent photographer known for portraits of celebrities, supermodels, athletes, and political and spiritual leaders.

Ritts was born to Herbert Ritts and Shirley Ritts, who owned a successful furniture business. Ritts Furniture provided the family a home in the tony Brentwood section of Los Angeles and vacation houses in Malibu and on Catalina Island. Although Ritts would eventually go on to study economics in college, he showed an interest in photography as a child, snapping pictures of his friends and family, including three siblings, with a single-lens reflex Miranda camera.

After finishing high school and studying economics at Bard College in New York City, Ritts announced his homosexuality to his family, who were supportive. When he returned to California after graduating with a B.S. in 1975, he took a position as a sales representative for the family’s furniture business.

His father’s company serviced the film industry, which afforded Ritts access to countless movie sets. But tables and chairs did not fuel his passions, so he enrolled in photography classes and learned the craft by snapping pictures of his friends, many of whom were actors. His first published photo, of nine-year-old Ricky Schroder and Jon Voigt on the set of the 1979 film The Champ, appeared in Newsweek.

Ritts’s real break, however, came one afternoon in 1979 as he drove around in the desert with the then-unknown actor Richard Gere and Gere’s girlfriend. While waiting for a flat tire to be changed, Ritts snapped a picture of a brooding, sweat-beaded Gere, who was clad in a white sleeveless top and well-worn jeans. The picture—of Gere leaning against a jacked-up Buick with arms stretched up, hands behind his head, and a cigarette dangling from his lips—would eventually be published in major magazines and would earn Ritts respect as a celebrity portraitist. Before long Ritts was shooting covers for Vanity Fair, Vogue, Interview, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle.

His subjects were no less impressive in terms of their star power. Among his most notable images was a 1987 shot of the pop star Madonna in Japan, lying in bed wearing Mickey Mouse ears and a cheeky grin. Other celebrated works include a 1991 portrait of the actress Elizabeth Taylor that drew a parallel between the star’s glimmering eyes and a chunky, sparkling diamond; a 1986 shot of the actor Jack Nicholson with his notorious grin accentuated by a magnifying glass; and a Vanity Fair cover shot of the supermodel Cindy Crawford giving the singer k. d. lang, who was dressed in a man’s suit, a mock shave.

Ritts did not limit himself to magazine work. His images were prominent on album covers and in numerous advertising campaigns, including those for the fashion designers Gianni Versace and Calvin Klein. His work on a GAP clothing ad campaign earned him the 1991 Infinity Award for Applied Photography from the International Center of Photography in New York City.

The photographer also dabbled in video directing for top pop acts. His video credits include Madonna’s “Cherish,” Britney Spears’s “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know,” and ’NSYNC’s “Gone.” Two sultry videos, Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” earned him MTV awards in 1991. Both videos were awash in Ritts’s signature style—shot mostly in black and white, overflowing with fit human specimens, and heavy on sand and sexiness.

Ritts also published numerous coffee-table books of his photographs, including Men/Women (1989), in which he explores the simple beauty of the male and female forms; Duo: Herb Ritts Photographs Bob Paris and Rod Jackson (1991), which chronicles the life of a gay couple; and Notorious (1992), a collection of celebrity shots, many of which had never been published before. For his book Africa (1994), Ritts took a slight detour from his usual work of celebrity snaps and pop videos. Although the tome highlights a subject far removed from the world of celebrities and pop culture—the Masai people—the stylized, geometric, sparse images nevertheless bear Ritts’s signature.

In the fall of 1996 Ritts was honored with his first ever retrospective at a major museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The show, titled Herb Ritts: Work, featured more than 200 images, from his interpretations of the musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Courtney Love to his shots of African landscapes and fashion spreads.

In December 2002 Ritts completed one of his final photo shoots, capturing the actor Ben Affleck for an upcoming Vanity Fair cover. Two weeks later Ritts died at the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-related pneumonia. He was fifty years old. Ritts was survived by his partner of seven years, Erik Hyman.

Ritts’s work teetered between commercial and high art and was embraced by both everyday people and art scholars. His photographs celebrated the human body and celebrity, often with a smidge of humor. When away from the camera, he was dedicated to AIDS and antidrug charities. Before dying, he established the Herb Ritts, Jr., Foundation, which provides grants to young photographers and arts organizations.

Writings about Ritts’s work and an audio interview with the artist are at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which held a retrospective, Herb Ritts: Work, from 22 Oct. 1996 through 23 Feb. 1997. Obituaries are in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times (both 27 Dec. 2002).

Sales representative for his family's Lucite furniture and accessories design company in Los Angeles, CA, c. 1975-79; professional photographer, 1979--. Works have been exhibited in gallery shows in Los Angeles, New York City, London, and Tokyo.

* Individual Exhibitions

* 1988: Staley/Wise Gallery, New York
* 1988: Parco Gallery, Tokyo
* 1988: Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles
* 1990: Staley/Wise Gallery, Los Angeles
* 1990: Hamilton's Gallery, London
* 1990: Parco Gallery, Tokyo
* 1990: PPS Gallery, Hamburg
* 1990: Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago
* 1990: Jane Corkin Gallery, Toronto
* 1990: Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans
* 1990: Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles
* 1991: PPS Galerie, Hamburg,
* 1991: Allene Lapides Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
* 1991: Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco
* 1991: Le Printemps de la Photo, Cahors
* 1992: Kathryn Fleck Gallery, Aspen, Colorado
* 1992: Davis/McClain Gallery, Houston, Texas
* 1992: Parco Gallery, Tokyo
* 1992: Allenes Lapides Gallery, Santa Fe
* 1992: Staley/Wise Gallery, New York
* 1992: Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles
* 1993: G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle
* 1993: Galleria Photology, Milan
* 1993: Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago
* 1993: Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans
* 1993: Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco
* 1993: Hamilton's Gallery, London
* 1993: Fay Gold Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia

* Selected Group Exhibitions

* 1989: -90 The Christmas Show, Staley/Wise Gallery, New York
* 1989: Censorship, Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles
* 1989: Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans
* 1993: Quatrième Festival International de la Photo de la Mode, Monaco

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