Icons & Influencers // Herb Ritts

There are no photographs in today's magazines that are anything like Herb Ritts.
Ritts' black and white images have always been amongst the collection of photographs I hold with utmost esteem. Having been set one to analyse and critique I thought I'd write a little more about him, his work, and my own thoughts surrounding.

"They're simple shots but they're just better than everybody else's. There aren't a lot of tricks. He's just better."

Photographing everyone and (initially) no one, models and singers, from Madonna to an undiscovered Richard Gere, to Naomi Campbell. The self-taught LA photographer rose to fame through chance, just as his style coincided with the zeitgeist of his time. High-concept Hollywood, the 'perfect' body and celebrities faces were everywhere. His death was so poetic it could almost be said to be perfectly appropriate for such a being.

"It is difficult to say which came first - Ritts or the gym cult - but they are the same thing."

Fred with Tyres, Hollywood, 1984

In Fred with Tyres, Ritts' wanted to shoot and create something more than just ‘the clothes’. This image was produced when he went against instructions received and found clothes for shooting himself. The daring images were used as the advertisement for jeans; the shock factor drew the attention of the audience to the brand, becoming his most successful advertisements of the early eighties. Sex sells and this image, unlike any of the era, became iconic because of this and the portrayal of an almost homoerotic image. His inspirations drew from classical depictions of beauty by the Greek, fantasy, in more unconventional settings, is present in this image. It was through his work that male models became more prominent in the fashion industry. 

Vladimir I, Hollywood 1990
Elizabeth Taylor, Malibu 1991
Jack Nicholson I, London 1988
Pants (Back View), Los Angeles 1988

Brigitte Nielsen with Netting, Malibu 1987

Dijon with Octopus, Hollywood 1989
Pierre & Yuri, Los Angeles 1999

Tony in White, Hollywood 1988
The King of anti-glamour, choosing to shoot celebrities outdoors in the natural environment in natural lighting, was how so much life was brought into his pictures. Herb drew on the elemental locations; where earth, wind, fire and air combined. And his placement of shadows rather than placement of light. All this, alongside the use of hard light in the models' eyes,  was what made his work like no other. 
"He was fluent in Los Angeles. It was just an innate part of him and his personality, from having grown up here where he knew at certain times of the year the light had a little softness or it was a little harder."
His deep understanding of both painting and sculpture is evident in his work. With ever varying textures, and a strong sense of sexuality running through everything he touched, Herb still kept it so it was about the lines of the body to create a thing of beauty rather than a pornographic image.


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