Herbert Ritts was one of the 1980s and 1990s leading celebrity photographers. Born in 1952 in Los Angeles California, he was initially supposed to keep the family’s furniture business running. Instead he moved to the East Coast to attend Bard College in New York, where he majored in economics and art history, as well as getting his first grip on a camera. His career really began when he gained some coverage back in Los Angeles by taking pictures of the then aspiring actor Richard Gere.
From there, he started working with notables such as Christopher Reeve, the Dalai Lama, Elizabeth Taylor, Ronald Reagan, Madonna, Jack Nicholson, Olivia Newton John and created some of the most “iconic” images of the “supermodels” of the 1990s.
“I like form and shape and strength in pictures“
The photographer mainly worked in black and white and was said to be finding his inspiration from ancient Greek statues. His imagery was composed of minimalistic, yet aesthetic pictures that often challenged standard notions of race and sexuality.
He collaborated with Vogue, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair for which he shot Cindy Crawford as well as creating advertising campaigns for Chanel, Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Gap and Valentino, among many others. He also published many books on photography for leading fashion designers including Giorgio Armani, Revlon, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Versace, Lancôme, Valentino and many more.
In 1991 he won two MTV video awards for his work on music videos by Janet Jackson and Chris Isaak. He also participated to Michael Jackson’s video clip “In the Closet” with the help of model Naomi Campbell and to Madonna’s music video “Cherish”.
In 1996 Boston’s Museum of Fine Art gave Herb Ritts his first museum show in which he published 230 works featuring the celebrity photographer’s favourite subjects: half-clothed models and movie stars.
He died in Los Angeles on December 26, 2002, at the age of 50 due to pneumonia complications. The Ritts Foundation, established just after his death in 2003, has typically donated to AIDS related causes which the photographer was also a sufferer.