In 1977, photographer Herb Ritts and his friend, actor Richard Gere, drove to the desert to take the photos, but on the way, the duo got a flat tire. Ritts took advantage of the mishap and photographed Gere standing in a white tank top and jeans at the trunk of the convertible hoisted by a jack. Although that photo session parlayed into a successful career, the famous photo wasn’t released for two years.
Ritts’ work first came to the forefront in 1979, when Mademoiselle, Vogue and Esquire magazines ran the raw photo that he took of Gere. In the decades following, Ritts became known for his photos of celebrities, such as: singer Madonna; athlete Michael Jordan; and supermodel Cindy Crawford. His models are posed powerfully and always depicted as sensual — emphasizing the architecture of the human body.
The world came to know Herb Ritts’ work through his fashion, celebrity and lifestyle photography of the 1980s and 1990s. He shot most of his images using the natural California sunlight in locations around Los Angeles, setting the precedent for what art historians recognize as “L.A. style.”
“He appreciated clean pictures that show bodies related to natural elements,” says Paul Martinaeu, curator of photography for J. Paul Getty Museum in L.A. and the man responsible for curating the photos in the exhibit.
The simple, mostly black-and-white photography exhibit “Herb Ritts: L.A. Style” opened at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Saturday, Feb. 23, and will run through May 19 as part of the Art of Our Time initiative that brings modern art to the museum. Martineau suggests that Ritts made L.A. look glamorous and sophisticated. These photographs aren’t your average fashion magazine ad.
“He conveyed (the 1980s and 1990s) in a way that no one else had,” Martineau says. “But it’s classic enough that it doesn’t look dated now.”
The Ritts exhibit is the result of Martineau’s 14 trips to the archive center to narrow down 1,100 boxes of photos to 80 images featured in the exhibit at Ringling Museum.
He explains that the exhibit is a retrospective of Ritts’ fashion and nude photography, more so than his celebrity photography, as a way to emphasize the elegance and fine-art influence Ritts had, and continues to have, on commercial photography.
“They are so well composed that they look simple or easy, but minute details of light, shadow and pose (suggest otherwise),” says Martineau.
If You Go
‘Herb Ritts: L.A. Style’
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through May 19
Where: The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road
Cost: Prices of museum admission; $25 for adults; $25 for seniors; $5 for students 18 and older and children 6 to 17; $10 for teachers and active duty military; free for members and children under 6.
Info: Call 359-5700
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