Herb Ritts: Classical Eye

Hidden Gems Revealed in the Box Files of the Celebrated Photographer

An Amazonian Cindy Crawford and Olympian Naomi Campbell feature alongside Johnny Depp, David Bowie and Karl Lagerfeld in this selection of previously unpublished shots from the late photographer Herb Ritts courtesy of Trunk archives. With an instinctive California-bred approach to light, expansive use of natural landscape and sculptural eye, Ritts set the tone for more than two decades of fashion, celebrity and art photography. “I think he had an extraordinary sense of classicism that you don’t often see,” says Ivan Shaw, Photography Director at American Vogue. “At the same time he brought a modernity to it.” With an upcoming exhibition of Ritts’s work at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the release of a new book, his continuing influence on a new generation of photographers is ensured. “People will remember his photography for his eye, his image, for his graphics,” says Charles Churchward, a close friend and former Design Director at Vogue. “It will come back in a strong way and be very influential.” To celebrate Ritts's work, NOWNESS culled the memories and reflections of his colleagues, friends and muses.

Richard Gere: His purpose was always to make you look good. He had an extremely elegant aesthetic. Some photographers are working so hard to be elegant that they pummel you with it, but to Herb it came effortlessly. Some photographers embalm their subjects, but he enlivened them.
 
Anna Wintour, Vogue Editor-in-Chief: He would call a lot. He would call when an issue came out and want to go over it even if he hadn't contributed to it, or he'd call to see how his covers sold.

Cindy Crawford: I think he photographs women the way they want to look… Herb would always get you naked. You knew that’s the way it went, you are going to look good.
 
Calvin Klein: His sense of light, outside or in the studio, is very strong and very graphic. When you turn a page and see one of his photographs, it’s aggressive. You stop.
 
Naomi Campbell: All of us experienced pain with Herb, but the pain was worth it. You want one of those photographs in your lifetime of modeling.
 
Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair Editor-in-Chief: I think of Herb when I’m near the sea and the sun is beginning to go down. That’s Herb Ritts light. It’s warm and flattering and it became his signature. He loved people and it shows in his photos. I miss him like crazy.

Mark Findlay, Ritts’s muse: There was a chemistry between us when we worked together. Our minds seemed to work alike creatively to make the most powerful images. We knew what we wanted and I could physically create that and maybe, between us we would stretch the dynamics further. There was a harmony to our work, a dance between photographer and model.

Bryan Appleyard, art critic: Ritts suited the emerging taste of the time, the gay-inspired, high-concept Hollywood and fashion culture that venerated the perfect body and the celebritous face. It is difficult to say which came first, Ritts or the gym cult––but they are the same thing.

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