Herb Ritts: Master of Light

herb ritts

Herb Ritts was a master of light. His photographs and distinctive style defined the age of the Supermodel – from American models Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Stephanie Seymour to German model, Tatjana Patiitz.  It has been said that in the splendor of his “silver and platinum prints alone,” Ritts was able to generate “warmth that is undeniable.” His almost-sculptural portrayals and portraitures solely based on a compositional level are enough to keep one’s attentiveness.

The Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York presents a retrospective of Herb Ritts that showcases 39 rare, vintage photographs based on the five supermodels from his work, Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989.

Herb Ritts launched his photographic career in the late 1970s. He soon earned a name for himself for his stunning fine art and editorial photography. As a native of Los Angeles, Ritts was at ease amongst celebrities, and beautiful people were always in close proximity – models, musicians and megastars. Besides portraiture, the photographer created photos for glossies like Vanity Fair, Vogue and more edgy magazines such as Rolling Stone and Interview. Later on in his career, he successfully directed more than 50 commercials and 13 music videos.

Ritts benefited from his Los Angeles environs. When he was not in the studio with a white backdrop, he set up his compositions at the desert or on nearby beaches where the model could connect with the natural surroundings. As a master of light, he favored bright California sunlight because it achieved a strong contrast of bold shadows and warm tones as seen in his photograph, Christy Turlington – Versace, La Mirage. Akin to Ansel Adams landscapes, his carefully orchestrated compositions countering the strength and beauty of the subjects in any environment.

He had the natural gift to uncover the beauty within and the spirit of an individual. He once said that photography is about “catching that moment,” letting the individual be herself, and “capturing something that’s special.”

herb ritts

Inspired by the likes of Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Man Ray, his timeless images surpass any boundaries. His photographs were never pigeonholed as strictly portraiture. Ritts simply possessed a remarkable talent to integrate “classical sculpture and modern photography” into his own individual style. The result was provocative and alluring, nonetheless beautiful and flawless photography as seen in one of the exhibit’s photographs , Tatjana with Black Sand.

In Ritt’s infamous 1989 photograph, the center of the New York retrospective, “the five models,” stemmed from a cover shoot for Rolling Stone magazine. Cindy Crawford commented that the models were good-humoredly dubbing it, “naked twister.” Ritts knew all them individually so there was a shared friendship and they trusted him. As Crawford put it, “the way Herb Ritts photographed you was the way you wanted the world to see you.” When he photographed the top models in the 1980s and 90s, he effortlessly and artistically encapsulated their complete persona – resilient, sensual, exposed and stunning.

In the Rolling Stone shoot, Ritts positioned the four nude top models so that they intertwined and embraced effortlessly. The image recalls Robert Mapplethorpe’s photograph, Sonia and Tracy, and more graceful and refined than Helmut Newton’s Naked and Dressed.

Initially, Ritts’ Rolling Stones shoot included only four of the models. Christy Turlington was invited last-minute. She joined the other top models to complete the symmetry of the well-known photograph as it is today.

Herb Ritts was more successful than most photographers were because he had the technical skill and creativity to effectively connect “art and commerce.” According to Getty Museum, Herb Ritts’ photographs “marked the synergistic union between art, popular culture, and business” that ensued after the 1960s and 70s Pop Art movement. The Edwynn Houk Gallery retrospective runs until March 22nd, 2014.

by Dawn Levesque


Edwynn Houk Gallery
Gay City News
Getty Museum

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