Portrait(s) of Herb Ritts
His break came on a long trip through California with a friend. The car they were travelling in had a puncture and they stopped at a garage to change the wheel. On a whim he asked his friend to pose for a photograph. It was Richard Gere and a year later both were stars. Gere on screen, Ritts behind the camera.
Herb Ritts was one of the stand-out photographers of his time. His work covered fashion photography, advertising, and portrait photography. He worked with clean lines and strong forms, almost all in black and white. He had an uncluttered simplicity in his work which made it striking, with the originality a true creative. Social history inter-played in his photographs of noted individuals in film, fashion, music, politics and society.
His portraits included many Hollywood stars, but also well-known world figures such as Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Stephen Hawking. He did campaigns for Donna Karan, Revlon and Tag Heuer. He came from a privileged family and moved in celebrity circles; many of his publications were risque - both certainly played a part in his success.
Ritts was one of the first commercial photographers to rely on primarily on natural light, specifically the light of California’s “golden hour” between three and six in the afternoon. He had an exceptional eye for composition, shade, grain, and the person behind the photo. "For me, a portrait is something from which you feel the person, their inner quality, what it is that makes them who they are."
Said one magazine editor: “Herb was
not only our key photographer, he was incredibly generous. Unlike others in our
field, he was the opposite of a prima donna. He made people feel welcome." Isn’t that the real art of portraiture - to make a person feel welcome – in their
His advice to young photographers: "Feel your surroundings.Try and develop a style. Don't get caught up in the technical side of things. Feel what is right in terms of light, subject and composition. Dare to experiment, catch a moment."
When I look at his photos, I am reminded of my time at university, earning my way with photography, winning a few competitions, loving portrait photography, at times contemplating a full time career as photographer. I learned from Ritts' technical brilliance, and his work was an inspiration. At the time media was only in print form, and his images transported to other worlds, when celebrities and world figures had an added allure because of their remoteness.
Herb Ritts was a star - behind the camera.
Herb Ritts : August 13, 1952 – December 26, 2002