Once when Madonna was asked about working with Herb Ritts, she called him a “real geek”. It was her first impression of an artist whom she met on the set of Desperately Seeking Susan, a comedy-drama film released in 1985. But, as later turned out, the “real geek” had something of a pure genius in the way he worked and approached people. Herb Ritts, a fashion photographer who has already become a legend on his own, is now at the center of attention at Maison européenne de la photographie in Paris, which holds a retrospective of his most notable works.
Herb was born in 1952 in Los Angeles, in a family of a businessman and an interior designer. Consequently, the photographer studied economics and art history in New York and took his first steps in the professional world working for his parents. But Herb was never destined to be a small cog in the pragmatical business machine. Herb Ritts that we know is an exceptional artist who devoted his life for creating miracle-worthy compositions where a human body, standing still as a Greek god or immersed in a movement, which even more emphasizes its divine qualities, plays the leading role. His photos are fuss-free, characterized by fearlessness, acute contrasts of black/white and impeccable aesthetics.
The only texture Herb was interested in was that of a human body. He searched to portray the way the body finds harmony with nature and various its forms (sun, sand, water), and, of course, with clothes: perfectly trained and muscled figures possess ferocious qualities of savage animals, but these are also the same bodies who can embrace the softest of the fabrics, looking fragile and monumental at the same time. Calm and vast landscapes, such as deserts or picturesque beaches are used as a backdrop for the personages in order to create a sentiment of grandeur.
Herb’s photographs are undeniably glamorous, but they are never vain. This could be one of the reasons why the celebrities enjoyed his company and were never afraid to unveil their most unexpected features: Nicole Kidman is provocatively sensual, but also possesses an aura of mysticality, Madonna is unashamedly audacious, Jack Nicholson is playfully wicked. Richard Gere posing by the car just with the right amount of machismo is an emblematic figure of Herb Ritt’s works. It was one of his first pictures, after all, which assured his newly acquired photographer status. Back in the time, Richard was only an aspiring actor, dreaming of international success and he was also incredibly shy, reluctant to pose for Herb (who could have believed?). Thanks to Richard’s publicist, the picture later found its way to fashion magazines (Vogue, Esquire and others). Herb didn’t even consider himself as a photographer when offers to take pictures of famous people began flowing. Of course, salesman-turned-photographer didn’t decline them. But it was probably the famous photograph of Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz and Naomi Campbell which placed Herb in the fashion history. There is literally nothing in this meticulously arranged minimalistic photograph but these five extraordinary women, belonging to the times famously referred to as the supermodels’ era, looking at posing attentively.
Herb created modern mythology from people who embody the spirit of the late XXth century: Michael Jackson, Helmut Newton, David Bowie, Tina Turner, Sylvester Stallone, Julia Roberts, Antonio Banderas. He managed to produce unique photographs of celebrities, who were being photographed everyday and whose faces were the most recognizable on the whole planet. Photography aside, Herb Ritts also directed music videos. “Wicked game” by Chris Isaak is probably one of the most spectacular examples, which shows how Herb’s sensuality could be translated to another medium.
Herb Ritts: en pleine lumière / Maison européenne de la photographie/ 07.09.2016-30.10.2016