by Herb RittsHerb Ritts was an American fashion photographer who concentrated on black-and-white photography and portraits in the style of classical Greek sculpture. Consequently some of his more famous pieces are of male and female nudes in what can be called glamour photography.
Ritts was born in Los Angeles, California to a prosperous family. His parents, Herb and Shirley Ritts, owned a successful furniture business. He received an economics degree from Bard College in upstate New York in 1974 and soon after returned to Los Angeles to work as a sales representative for his family's business. He came out as gay to his parents while in college; they were accepting and supportive.
However, Ritts started taking night classes in photography and decided to dedicate himself to the art in the late 1970s. His first break into the business occurred as a result of taking portraits of his actor friend Richard Gere. These photos gained national exposure on the covers of many magazines.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s he worked with magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue on portraits of famous people and artistic photos of models.
Subjects of his black-and-white celebrity portraits included Kofi Annan, Cindy Crawford, Tenzin Gyatso (the Dalai Lama), Madonna, Jack Nicholson and Elizabeth Taylor.
In 1981, Ritts took photos for the album cover of Olivia Newton-John's Physical. He started his long term collaboration with Madonna in 1984, when he shot the ad for her movie Desperately Seeking Susan.
In 1984, he photographed Eagles drummer and vocalist Don Henley for his second solo album Building the Perfect Beast.
In 1986, Ritts shot the cover photo of Madonna's True Blue album. He later ventured into the world of music video at a suggestion of Madonna and filmed her video "Cherish". In 1988, he photographed Steve Winwood for his Roll With It album. In 1989, he photographed Belinda Carlisle for her Runaway Horses album.
He photographed Cindy Crawford for the July 1988, and October 1998 issues of Playboy.
Ritts proved himself to be successful in directing music videos. In 1991 two of these, Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game", which featured Danish supermodel Helena Christensen and Janet Jackson's "Love Will Never Do (Without You)", won MTV Video Music Awards. He co-directed Michael Jackson's "In the Closet" video, which featured British supermodel Naomi Campbell. He also directed videos for Mariah Carey's "My All", Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing", which featured French supermodel Laetitia Casta, Britney Spears' "Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know", Jennifer Lopez's "Ain't It Funny" and Shakira's "Underneath Your Clothes", the latter was completed shortly before his death.
He died in Los Angeles from pneumonia-related complications. He was HIV-positive. He was survived by his partner Erik Hyman.
Ritts' final published photographs were those of actor Ben Affleck in Vanity Fair magazine.
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