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Herb Ritts
American photographer, 1952 - 2002

"Fifty or sixty years from now, if someone sees a portrait of Madonna, they really won't care that it was Madonna, or they won't know who the hell she was. But it'll hold up as a portrait of an interesting woman you want to know. You feel her. There's something coming from it."

Herb Ritts, best known for his photographic portraits of celebrities, died December 26, 2002 of complications of pneumonia. He was 50 years old.

Ritts was born in Los Angeles in 1952, and grew up in the Brentwood neighborhood. He graduated from Bard College in 1974 with a degree in economics (he minored in art history) and worked for a while as a sales representative in his family's furniture business (which often supplied items to movie sets).

He was a self-taught photographer whose photographic career began in the late 1970s when he photographed Jon Voight and Ricky Schroeder on the set of The Champ. But it didn't really take off until he and his friend Richard Gere had a flat tire during a trip through the desert. Ritts, who had brought his camera, documented the incident.

One of the resulting photographs, an iconic image of Gere in jeans and a white t-shirt with his arms over his head and a cigarette dangling from his mouth, became a catalyst in the careers of both men. At the time, Gere was an unknown. A year later he was a star, and Ritts' photos were used as publicity shots.

His success as a photographer is attributed not just to his eye for style and his proficiency with a camera, but also to his ability to relate to his subjects and make them comfortable in front of the camera.

His photographs, which were usually black and white, were often featured in such magazines as Interview, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, Elle, GQ, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. He worked with many top fashion designers, including Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Giorgio Armani. His work has been displayed in countless museums and galleries, including a major retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1996.

He took pictures for album covers and directed music videos (most notably for Janet Jackson and Chris Isaak).

He published several books, including Duo (a study of gay couples), Africa (portraits of Maasai people, and Notorious (celebrity portraits).

Ritts also helped raise charity funds, often for AIDS groups.

He is survived by his partner, entertainment attorney Erik Hyman; his mother, Shirley Ritts; a brother, Rory; and a sister, Christy.

"The real impact of AIDS is the void that it leaves. It's what you don't ever see, the photography that hasn't been made. Photographs that will not be there on the walls. Photographs that will not be there to affect people in generations to come."


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