An American fashion photographer who focused on black-and-white photography and portraits in the style of classical Greek sculptures, Herb Ritts (born 1952, died in 2002) rose to fame as a result of his shots of actor Richard Gere. The portraits received national prominence on the covers of several magazines. He further created a reputation as a celebrity photographer by photographing Jack Nicholson, Mick Jagger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cindy Crawford and Ben Aflleck, among others. Ritts' photography can be seen in museums and galleries, and he also published books of his work.
In addition, the award-winning photographer made many album covers, including Madonna's True Blue (1986) and Belinda Carlisle's Runaway Horses (1989), and his photos frequently appeared in magazines such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. The multi-talented artist was also known for creating successful advertising campaigns for clients like Calvin Klein, Chanel, Donna Karan and Gap, and directing music videos, most notably Janet Jacksons' “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” both of which won MTV Awards.
Reportedly HIV positive, Ritts dedicated his life to supporting campaigns against HIV/AIDS and related causes. He also actively participated in many charitable organizations, like Elizabeth Taylor’s AIDS Foundation, Focus on AIDS, amfAR, Project Angel Food, APLA, Best Buddies and the Special Olympics. Ritts was a charter member on the Board of Directors for The Elton John Aids Foundation.
On a more personal note, Ritts was romantically linked to life partner Erik Hyman.
Childhood and Family:
Herbert Ritts was born on August 13, 1952, in Los Angeles, California, to an affluent family who owned a furniture business. In 1970, he moved to New York to study economics at Bard College and upon graduating in 1974, returned to West Hollywood and worked as a sales representative for his family's business. This job provided Herb the opportunity to travel and chase one of his interests, photography.
On December 26, 2002, Herb passed away at his home in L.A. because of complications from pneumonia. He was 50.
In the late 1970s, Herb Ritts left his job as a sales representative to dedicate himself to the art of photography. His first break into the business arrived when he took the portraits of his actor friend, the then unknown Richard Gere. These photos graced the covers of many magazines and subsequently launched Ritts' career as a commercial photographer. His later subjects included Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mick Jagger, Christopher Reeve and Elizabeth Taylor, among others.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Ritts worked for major publications such as Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Elle, and Rolling Stone on portraits of famous people and artistic photos of models. He also took photos for album covers and made his debut with the Olivia Newton-Johns Physical in 1981. Three years later, in 1984, the talented photographer began his affiliation with pop star Madonna when he shot the ad for her film Desperately Seeking Susan. The two worked together again in 1986 when Ritts took photos for Madonna's True Blue album. Ritts then photographed Cindy Crawford for the July 1988 issue of Playboy magazine and teamed up with Belinda Carlisle for her Runaway Horses album in 1989.
Ritts' work also attracted numerous leading fashion companies and he was asked to create advertising campaigns for their products. His corporate clients included Donna Karan, Channel, Giorgio Armani, Gianfranco Ferré, Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein, the Gap, Polo Ralph Lauren, Valentino, Levi's and Pirelli. It was his portraits for the Gap that won Ritts the Eternity award for practical Photography from the International Center for Photography, in New York. After this, he further established a good reputation by directing several international commercial campaigns for companies like Rochas, Lancome, Guess perfume, Revlon, Guy Laroche and Cartier, to name a few.
The Los Angeles native had his first exposure of directing music videos in 1990 when he worked with Janet Jackson for the video “Love Will Never Do (Without You).” The project proved successful when it won an MTV for Best Female Video in 1991. The same year, he also received attention for his work in Chris Isaak's breakthrough “Wicked Game,” which also won a MTV award in the category of Best Male Video. He also directed videos for Madonna's “Cherish,” Michael Jackson's “In the Closet,” which featured supermodel Naomi Campbell, Toni Braxton's “Let It Flow,” Mariah Carey's “My All,” Britney Spears' “Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know,” Shakira's “Underneath Your Clothes,” NSYNC's “Gone” and Bon Jovi's “Please Come Home For Christmas.”
Before his death, Ritts directed Jennifer Lopez's “Ain't It Funny” video. He also photographed Lopez's former lover, Ben Aflleck, for Vanity Fair magazine.