Herb Ritts (American, 1952–2002) is one of the most notable fashion and portrait photographers of the late 1980s and 1990s. Ritts grew up in California, and studied Economics and Art History at Bard College in New York, before returning to the West Coast. His spontaneous photographs of Richard Gere at the start of the actor’s career in 1978 were published in American Vogue, Esquire, and Mademoiselle. Fashion designers in Europe and magazines in New York recognized Ritts self-taught talent, and their commissions established Ritts as a renowned photographer. Ritts’ photographs, described as “Retro-Neo-Deco” in style, were often shot in dramatic locations, such as deserts, seascapes, and places of vast beauty.

Ritts is famous for his Fred with Tires series (1984), and his portrait of Madonna for the cover of her record-breaking 1986 album True Blue, as well as unconventional photographs of Elizabeth Taylor and Dizzy Gillepsie. His subjects also include Antonio Banderas, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Stephen Hawking, Michael Jordan, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, B.B. King, Nelson Mandela, Edward Norton, Christopher Reeve, and Tina Turner, as well as fellow artists Keith Haring (American, 1958–1990), Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925–2008), Louise Bourgeois (American/French, 1911–2010), Francesco Clemente (Italian, b.1952), Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923–1997). Ritts’s understanding of the body, its light, texture, and warmth, enabled him to portray iconic images of women and men alike. Ritts authored many books, such as Men/Women (1989), Notorious (1992), Africa (1994), Work (1996), Duo (1991), and Pictures (1988).

His work has been exhibited in numerous museums, such as the Fondation Cartier Pour L'Art Contemporain in Paris, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, CA, the National Portrait Gallery and the Hayward Gallery in London, and PS1 Contemporary Art Center, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, NY. Several of his works have also been acquired by The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, CA.

Timeline

1952
Born in Brentwood, USA
1970–1974
Majored in economics and art history at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, USA
1991
Received an Infinity Award for Applied Photography from the International Center for Photography (ICP) in New York, USA for the portraits he shot for Gap
1980–2001
Worked with magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue on portraits of famous people and artistic photos of models
Created successful advertising campaigns for Calvin Klein, Chanel, Donna Karan, Gap, Gianfranco Ferré, Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Levi’s, Pirelli, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Valentino, among others
2002
Died in Los Angeles, USA from pneumonia-related complications
2008
Was awarded a Pioneer Award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

Exhibitions

2010
Revealed: The Tradition of Male Homoerotic Art, Central Connecticut State University Art Galleries, New Britain, CT
Thanks for Being With Us: Contemporary Art from the Douglas Nielsen Collection, Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson, Arizona
Mick Jagger: Promenade Rock, Recontres d'arles, Arles, France
2009
Ingres and the Moderns, Musée Ingres, Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, Quebec, Canada
2008
Vanity Fair: Photographs 1913-2008, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; traveling to: Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland and National Portrait Gallery, London, U.K.
This Side of Paradise: Body and Landscape in L.A. Photographs, The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Herb Ritts and Horst P. Horst, Robert Klein Gallery, Boston, MA
2007
The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama, Rubin Museum of Art, New York, NY
Herb Ritts, Hamiltons Gallery, London, U.K.(solo)
All For Art! Great Private Collections Among US, Musée des Beaux Arts , Montreal, Canada
OCULTOS (Hidden), Fundacion Canal, Madrid, Spain
Classic Beauty: Part 2 - Photographs of the Male Nude, Throckmorton Fine Art, New York, NY
Celebrity Photographs 2007, Fay Gold Gallery, Atlanta, GA(solo)
2006
Herb Ritts: A Personal Vision, Wessel + O'Connor Fine Art, Brooklyn, NY(solo)
Sans Regard: Collection Dancing Bear of W.M. Hunt, Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland
2005
Herb Ritts : BODY 1984-1999, Staley-Wise Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
25 Years: Fay Gold Anniversary Exhibition, Fay Gold Gallery, Atlanta, GA
Chronos: Time in Art From the 17th Century to the Modern Day, Il Filatoio, Caraglio, Italy
Speaking With Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain
2004
Herb Ritts, Museum of Art & History, Shunan City, Japan(solo)
Body, Staton Greenberg Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
Platinum, Galleria abOrigena, Milan, Italy
Photo-Icon, Arte Fino, Zurich, Switzerland
2003
Herb Ritts Memorial Exhibition, Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, CA(solo)
Herb Ritts, Daimaru Museum, Kyoto, Japan(solo)
Masterworks in Platinum, Camera Obscura, Denver, CO
2002
Faces in Music 1952-2002, Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Archeology of Elegance, International Hall of Photography, Hamburg, Germany
2001
Cartier, NRW Forum, Düsseldorf, Germany; traveling to: Galleria Carla Sozzani, Milan, Italy
The Portrait / The Nude III, Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Herb Ritts - NRW-Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft, Dusseldorf, Germany(solo)
2000
Herb Ritts, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy(solo)
Herb Ritts: Photographien, Camerawork Gallery, Berlin, Germany
Masterminds of Mode: International Fashion Festival, Kobe Fashion Museum, Kobe, Japan
1999
Herb Ritts, Fondation Cartier pour L'Art Contemporain, Paris, France (solo)
Herb Ritts: WORK, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO(solo)
Addressing the Century: 100 Years of Art & Fashion, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany
1998
Herb Ritts, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR (solo)
Herb Ritts: Photographs, SK Josefsberg Studio, Portland, OR(solo)
Waterproof/A Prova de Agua, Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal
1997
Summer Pleasures, Staley-Wise Gallery, New York, NY
Africa, Albany Museum of Arts, Albany, GA
1996
Herb Ritts: Work, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA(solo)

Public Collections

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Wessel + O'Connor Fine Art, Brooklyn, NY
Museum of Art & History, Shunan City, Japan
Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
International Hall of Photography, Hamburg, Germany
Kobe Fashion Museum, Kobe, Japan
Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL
Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago, IL
Daimaru Museum, Tokyo, Japan
Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Turin, Italy
Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson, Arizona
National Portrait Gallery, London, U.K.

Literature

2010
Charchward, Charles. Herb Ritts: The Golden Hour: A Photographer's Life and His World. Rizzoli: New York
2002
Bellafante, Ginia. Herb Ritts, Photographer Of Celebrities, Is Dead at 50. New York Times
1999
Herb Ritts: Foundation Cartier Pour L'art Contemporain. Thames & Hudson; London
1996
Ritts, Herb & Fairbrother, Trevor. Herb Ritts: Work. Bulfinch: Boston
1992
Ritts, Herb. Notorious. Bulfinch: Boston
1989
Ritts, Herb. Men/Women. Twin Palms Publishers: Santa Fe