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Herb Ritts Dies

Celebrity photographer dies at fifty

Photographer and video director Herb Ritts died on December 26th at
the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center of
complications from pneumonia; he was fifty. Ritts shot numerous
covers for Rolling Stone, including a 1989 shot of Madonna
on the beach aiming a camera at the photographer, a 1987 shot of
David Bowie epitomizing the cover’s one word caption, “Style,” and
perhaps most famously his take on the Botticelli painting “The
Birth of Venus,” with Cindy Crawford substituting for the Roman
goddess. His last cover for Rolling Stone was for last
year’s Bob Dylan feature.

Born and raised in southern California, Ritz attended Bard
College in upstate New York, studying economics and art history. He
returned to California after college. But it wasn’t until he began
taking informal portraits of friends in the movie industry that
Ritts became involved in photography. Among his first photographs
were shots of Richard Gere taken on a desert excursion. Through the
Seventies and Eighties, Ritts photographed men’s and women’s
fashion for mostly Italian magazines, going on to become one of the
most respected and well known celebrity and fashion photographers
of the last twenty years. He shot covers for top fashion and
culture magazines including Interview, Harper’s
Bazaar
, Vogue and Elle and ads for top
designers Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani. Ritts has
also photographed political and cultural leaders including Ronald
Reagan, Stephen Hawking and the Dalai Lama.

Central to Ritts’ work was a celebration of the human body.
Among Ritts’ most well known photographs are his shots of Massai
people in Africa (captured in his 1994 book, Africa) and
his view of the male and female body (Men/Women, 1989).
His shots of dancer Bill T. Jones and a former Mr. Universe
photographed with his gay partner combined his fame for portraits
of cultural figures and his interest in the strength of the human
body.

Critic and Interview Editor-in-Chief Ingrid Sischy once
said that to create Ritts’ images, “you have to be savvy on all
fronts . . . you have to be a diplomat, a psychologist, a playmate,
and a great persuader . . . Because he has such a natural grasp of
[all this], as well as of all the technical aspects, Ritts can pull
off the equivalent of miracles — photographs that become
icons.”

Ritts also directed television commercials and music videos,
among the most famous, Madonna’s “Cherish” and Chris Isaak’s
“Wicked Game.” Most recently he worked on Shakira’s “Underneath
Your Clothes,” ‘N Sync’s “Gone” and Britney Spears’ “Don’t Let Me
Be the Last to Know.”

Ritts is survived by his partner, Erik Hyman, his mother,
Shirley Ritts, his sister, Christy Thrasher and his brother,
Rory.

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