American photographer, 1952 - 2002
"Fifty or sixty years from now, if someone sees a portrait of
Madonna, they really won't care that it was Madonna, or they won't
know who the hell she was. But it'll hold up as a portrait of an
interesting woman you want to know. You feel her. There's something
coming from it."
Herb Ritts, best known for his photographic portraits of
celebrities, died December 26, 2002 of complications of
pneumonia. He was 50 years old.
Ritts was born in Los Angeles in 1952, and
grew up in the Brentwood neighborhood. He graduated from Bard
College in 1974 with a degree in economics (he minored in art
history) and worked for a while as a sales representative in his
family's furniture business (which often supplied items to movie
He was a self-taught photographer whose photographic career began in
the late 1970s when he photographed Jon Voight and Ricky
Schroeder on the set of The Champ. But it didn't really take off
until he and his friend Richard Gere had a flat tire during a trip
through the desert. Ritts, who had brought his camera, documented
One of the resulting photographs, an iconic image of Gere in jeans
and a white t-shirt with his arms over his head and a cigarette
dangling from his mouth, became a catalyst in the careers of both men.
At the time, Gere was an unknown. A year later he was a star, and
Ritts' photos were used as publicity shots.
His success as a photographer is attributed not just to his eye for
style and his proficiency with a camera, but also to his ability to relate to his subjects and make them comfortable in front of the camera.
His photographs, which were usually black
and white, were often featured in such magazines as Interview,
Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, Elle, GQ, Rolling Stone and Vanity
Fair. He worked with many top fashion designers, including Calvin
Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Giorgio Armani. His work has been displayed in countless museums and galleries, including a major
retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1996.
He took pictures for album covers and directed music videos (most
notably for Janet Jackson and Chris Isaak).
He published several books, including Duo (a study
of gay couples), Africa (portraits of Maasai
people, and Notorious (celebrity portraits).
Ritts also helped raise charity funds, often for AIDS groups.
He is survived by his partner, entertainment attorney Erik Hyman;
his mother, Shirley Ritts; a brother, Rory; and a sister, Christy.
"The real impact of AIDS is the void that it leaves. It's what
you don't ever see, the photography that hasn't been made. Photographs
that will not be there on the walls. Photographs that will not be
there to affect people in generations to come."