Herb Ritts

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Herb Ritts
Herb Ritts.jpg
Herbert Ritts Jr.

(1952-08-13)August 13, 1952
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedDecember 26, 2002(2002-12-26) (aged 50)
Los Angeles, California
Alma materBard College
AwardsGLAAD Media Awards
Pioneer Award 2008

Herbert Ritts Jr. (August 13, 1952 – December 26, 2002) was an American fashion photographer and director known for his photographs of celebrities, models, and other cultural figures throughout the 1980s and 1990s. His work concentrated on black and white photography and portraits, often in the style of classical Greek sculpture, which emphasized the human shape.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Los Angeles, to a Jewish family,[2] Ritts began his career working in the family furniture business. His father, Herb Ritts Sr., was a businessman, while his mother, Shirley Ritts, was an interior designer. He moved to the East Coast to attend Bard College in New York, where he majored in economics and art history, graduating in 1975.[1]

Later, while living in Los Angeles, he became interested in photography when he and friend Richard Gere, then an aspiring actor, decided to shoot some photographs in front of an old jacked up Buick.[1] The picture gained Ritts some coverage and he began to be more serious about photography. He photographed Brooke Shields for the cover of the October 12, 1981 edition of Elle and he photographed Olivia Newton-John for her Physical album in 1981. Five years later he replicated that cover pose with Madonna for her 1986 release True Blue. That same year he photographed Tina Turner for the album Break Every Rule.

Ritts was openly gay.[3]

Later notable photographs[edit]

During the 1980s and 1990s, Ritts prominently photographed celebrities in various locales throughout California.[4] Some of his subjects during this time included Cher, Tina Turner.[5] Elizabeth Taylor,[6] Vincent Price,[7] Madonna,[8] Denzel Washington,[9] Johnny Depp,[10] Ronald Reagan,[11] David Bowie,[12] Courtney Love,[13] Liv Tyler,[14] Matthew McConaughey,[15] Britney Spears,[16] Björk, Michael Jackson, Axl Rose, Slash, and Mariah Carey.

He also took many fashion and nude photographs of fashion models Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford, including "Tatjana, Veiled Head, Tight View, Joshua Tree, 1988."

Ritts' work with those models ushered in the 1990s era of the supermodel and was consecrated by one of his most celebrated images, "Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989" taken for Rolling Stone Magazine.

He also worked for Interview, Esquire, Mademoiselle, Glamour, GQ, Newsweek, Harper's Bazaar, Rolling Stone,[4] Time, Vogue, Allure, Vanity Fair, Details, and Elle. Ritts took publicity portraits for Batman, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin which appeared on magazine covers and merchandise throughout the 1990s.

He published books on photography for fashion designers including Giorgio Armani, Revlon, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth Arden, Donna Karan, Cartier, Guess, Maybelline, TAG Heuer, Lacoste, Gianfranco Ferré, Levi's, Victoria's Secret, Gap, Acura, CoverGirl, Lancôme, and Valentino.

From 1996 to 1997 his work was displayed at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, attracting more than 250,000 people to the exhibit,[17] and in 2003 a solo exhibition was held at the Daimaru Museum, in Kyoto, Japan.

Music videos[edit]

The first video he directed was Madonna in "Cherish" in 1989. In 1991, he won two MTV Video Awards for his work on music videos by Janet Jackson and Chris Isaak. He won a Goldene Kamera award for the "Way of the World" video for Tina Turner.[citation needed] Ritts also directed the music video for Michael Jackson's "In the Closet", which featured supermodel Naomi Campbell, as well as Jon Bon Jovi's music video featuring Cindy Crawford for "Please Come Home for Christmas". Ritts also worked on other projects, including directing and acting, on Mariah Carey's "My All" (1998), Janet Jackson's Design of a Decade: 1986–1996 (1996), Intimate Portrait: Cindy Crawford (1998), Murder in the First (1995), "Ain't it Funny" by Jennifer Lopez (2001), Britney Spears' "Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know" (2001), "Gone" by NSYNC (2001), and Shakira's "Underneath Your Clothes" (2002).


On December 26, 2002, Ritts died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 50.[18] According to Ritts' publicist, "Herb was HIV-positive, but this particular pneumonia was not PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia), a common opportunistic infection of AIDS. But at the end of the day, his immune system was compromised."[19]



Music videos[edit]

Year Title Artist Notes
1989 "Cherish" Madonna
1990 "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" Janet Jackson with Antonio Sabàto, Jr. and Djimon Hounsou
1991 "Wicked Game" Chris Isaak second version of music video; with Helena Christensen
"Way of the World" Tina Turner two slightly different versions, one for the American market and the other European
1992 "In The Closet" Michael Jackson with Naomi Campbell
1994 "Please Come Home for Christmas" Jon Bon Jovi with Cindy Crawford
1996 "Let It Flow" Toni Braxton
1998 "My All" Mariah Carey
1999 "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" Chris Isaak Remix version, with Laetitia Casta
2000 "Telling Stories" Tracy Chapman
2001 "Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know" Britney Spears
"Ain't It Funny" Jennifer Lopez
"Gone" NSYNC
2002 "Underneath Your Clothes" Shakira


  • Pictures, Twin Palms Publishers, 1988
  • Men/Women, Twin Palms Publishers, 1989
  • Duo, Twin Palms Publishers, 1991
  • Notorious, Little, Brown and Company/Bulfinch Press, 1992
  • Africa, Little, Brown and Company/Bulfinch Press, 1994
  • Work, Little, Brown and Company/Bulfinch Press, 1996
  • Herb Ritts, Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain, 1999
  • Herb Ritts L.A. Style, Getty Publications, 2012



  1. ^ a b c Bellafante, Ginia (December 27, 2002). "Herb Ritts, Photographer of Celebrities, Is Dead at 50". The New York Times. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  2. ^ Abrams, Melanie (June 23, 2011). "Lens that defined a generation". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  3. ^ "Putting on the Ritts". April 2003.
  4. ^ a b Loder, Kurt (April 23, 1987), "Stardust Memories", Rolling Stone, no. 498, pp. 74–77, 80, 82, 168, 171
  5. ^ "Herb Ritts |".
  6. ^ "Elizabeth Taylor, Malibu, 1991". HerbRitts.com. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  7. ^ "Vincent Price, Los Angeles, 1989". HerbRitts.com. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  8. ^ "Madonna I, San Pedro, 1990". HerbRitts.com. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  9. ^ "Denzel Washington, Malibu, 1995". HerbRitts.com. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  10. ^ "Johnny Depp, Beverly Hills, 1991". HerbRitts.com. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  11. ^ "Ronald Reagan, Los Angeles, 1993". HerbRitts.com. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  12. ^ "David Bowie, Los Angeles, 1993". HerbRitts.com. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  13. ^ "Courtney Love, Culver City, 1995". HerbRitts.com. March 6, 1995. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  14. ^ "Liv Tyler, El Mirage, 1996". HerbRitts.com. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  15. ^ "Matthew McConaughey, Palmdale, 1996". HerbRitts.com. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  16. ^ "Britney Spears, Los Angeles, 2001". HerbRitts.com. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  17. ^ Edgers, Geoff (April 5, 2007). "Breaking: Herb Ritts Money, Art to MFA50". Boston Globe. Retrieved November 7, 2010.
  18. ^ Bellafante, Ginia (December 27, 2002). "Herb Ritts, Photographer of Celebrities, Is Dead at 50". The New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
  19. ^ Signorile, Michelangelo (January 22, 2001). "Ritts Coverage: Don't Hide the AIDS Truths". windycitymediagroup.com. Retrieved September 13, 2010.
  20. ^ "Chrysler Museum of Art". chrysler.org. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  21. ^ "Exhibits". rockhall.com. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  22. ^ a b Christian, Scott (March 13, 2015). "Herb Ritts: old-school glamour's last stand". The Guardian. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  23. ^ "Herb Ritts". mfa.org. February 12, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  24. ^ "Exhibition HERB RITTS: SUPER – artist, news & exhibitions". photography-now.com. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  25. ^ "Herb Ritts' Iconic Photographs of the '90s "Supers" Are Back". Vogue. January 29, 2017. Retrieved March 7, 2017.

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