Herbert “Herb” Ritts (1952-2002) was a Los Angeles born and bred fashion photographer, award winning music video and fashion ad director, philanthropist and friend of the stars. Although Ritts is often clubbed together with other notable photography bods of his era such as the late and great Robert Mapplethorpe – who’s work I have been a fan of for a while – I was blindly unaware of his work until a recent visit to the Getty Center, LA.
After a rather traumatic drive down a traffic clogged Sunset Boulevard, during which I had an attack of the itchy eye syndrome forcing me to pull into the car park of a motel offering water beds and adults movies, we arrived at the hill top location of the J. Paul Getty Museum. Stepping off the tram, which ferries you from the underground car park to the museum entrance, you are met with the vast bright white and beige façade with views of the L.A. skyline and surrounding mountains.
With our priorities in order we headed straight for the cafe for highly recommended tacos, burritos and brain freeze inducing slushies on the sunny yet breezy terrace.
For a while I was planning on studying History of Art, so with a little bit of amateur knowledge of the old stuff I was interested in seeing the huge collection of pre-20th-century European art which is housed in the permanent exhibitions. However my friend on the other hand greatly prefers modern art and simply stated ‘this is boring’. So after a rather hurried walk around the different galleries we happened upon the West Pavilion featuring a temporary exhibition of some dude called Herb.
Having already been surprised by how much I was enjoying L.A. rather than hating it as I’d expected, upon entering the first room, I instantly knew I was going to like this exhibition – Herb Ritts: LA Style. Ritts’ use of black-and-white to photograph nudes grabbed my attention immediately, reminding me of Helmut Newton and Mapplethorpe.
Ritts regularly worked outside taking advantage of the naturally bright Californian sunshine, deepening the contrast between black and white. Along with his use of clean lines and simplified compositions, Ritts created these marble-like figures that resembled those of Greek sculptures. The ensuing mass of famous faces took me by surprise, firstly a somewhat dashing Mel Gibson followed by the supermodels ‘Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi’ – definitely a recognisable image.
A smaller conjoining dark room was showing a selection of Ritts’ music videos and ad campaigns including Janet Jackson’s ‘Love Will Never Do (Without You)’ and Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, both of which won acclaim at the MTV Video Music Awards. Ritts’ fashion commercials were very synonymous with the period, and watching them on a big screen made me realise just how reputable Herb Ritts was within the fashion world and it shocked me that I wasn’t aware of his work before now.
I walked away from the exhibition with a postcard of Djimon with Octopus in Hollywood (below) for my sister because she has a thing about octopuses, I now regret not buying others.
Herb Ritts passed away on December 26th, 2002.
Post by Phoebe Jenner, Photography Account Executive @ TNR Communications