Herb Ritts at MFA Boston

By Peggy Roalf   Friday December 28, 2012

Herb Rittsxxxxxxxx, explores the career of one of the top photographers to emerge from the 1980s. Herb Ritts (1952–2002) formed an aesthetic that incorporated facets of life in and around Los Angeles in his distinctive photographs of fashion models, nudes, and celebrities. From the late 1970s until his untimely death from AIDS in 2002, Ritts's ability to create photographs that successfully bridged the gap between art and commerce was not only a testament to the power of his imagination and technical skill but also marked the synergy between art, business, and popular culture that became a new model. Through a gift xxxxxxx, xxxxxx. press release

He often made use of the bright California sunlight to produce bold contrasts, and his preference for outdoor locations such as the desert and the beach helped to separate his work from that of his New York-based peers. Malibu, Point Dume, the dry lakebed at El Mirage near Palmdale and the Santa Monica Pier were some of his favorite locations to achieve the grainy textures and chiaroscuro-like shadows on the skin that became his signature effects. Through hard work and a distinctive vision, Herb Ritts fashioned himself into one of the most in-demand commercial and editorial photographers of his generation.

 Left: Tony with Black Face, Profile, Los Angeles, 1986. Right: Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989. © Herb Ritts Foundation.

Largely self-taught, Ritts easily moved between celebrity portraits, fashion editorials, and advertising assignments. His 1977 portraits of Richard Gere launched his career when they were published in Mademoiselle, Vogue, and Esquire in the same month. At the height of his career, Ritts had a million-dollar contract with Conde Nast that also included a huge expense account; he created the famous Gap “Individuals of Style” advertising campaign; and had the first show of work by a living photographer at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Vogue’s editor in chief, Anna Wintour, once said that Ritts wasn’t as interested in the clothes as he was in the texture of beautiful skin. When she rejected a shoot of super model Naomi Campbell wearing no more than a pair of thigh-high black patent leather boots, Ritts sent it to Andy Warhol’s Interview, for which he was a frequent contributor.

All the time he was shooting celebrities such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and a host of film stars for magazines, it was his personal work, photographs of male nudes, that gained him acceptance in the art world. An avid collector of photography, his knowledge of the history of the medium was deep; he drew inspiration from the work of Man Ray, Paul Outerbridge, Edward Weston, George Platt Lynes, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Steiglitz, among others. His ability to photograph the texture of skin gave his nudes the monumental quality of sculpture. But also collected in the gorgeously produced book of the same title that accompanies this exhibition are many of his female nudes, which are as beautifully considered as the male studies.

Herb Ritts continues at the Museum of Fine Arts through November 8, 2015, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA.

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