NEW YORK — Herb Ritts, the photographer whose work for everyone from Vanity Fair to Gap produced iconic images in the Eighties and Nineties, died Thursday at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles at age 50.
This story first appeared in the December 27, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The cause of death was complications from pneumonia, a spokesman said.
Ritts was born in Los Angeles in 1952 and moved east to study economics at Bard College. Returning to California, he took a job as a sales representative at his family’s furniture business. He began taking photographs as a hobby and, in the Seventies, met Richard Gere through a mutual friend. The two men drove into the desert one day and a flat tire resulted in an impromptu photo session of Gere in a white vest with his arms over his head and a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
Gere then was a relative unknown but a year later a major star. Ritts’ photos were used as his publicity shots.
Working frequently in black-and-white, he would go on to shoot everyone from Madonna to Dizzy Gillespie, the Dalai Lama to Christopher Reeve.
Lucrative fashion campaigns followed, as did contracts at magazines like Vanity Fair and Vogue, for which Ritts frequently shot the covers until his death. He also did photographic work for such designers and beauty companies as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Chanel and Revlon. His campaigns for Gap in the Eighties helped establish the chain as a hip retailer, featuring a mix of designers, actors and musicians wearing Gap clothing in straightforward black-and-white portraits. The company reprised that campaign in its fall ads this year, which weren’t photographed by Ritts.
Along with Bruce Weber, he pioneered a new way of photographing men, showing them with a strikingly, glamorous sensuality. He also shot album covers and directed music videos. In 1991, two of his videos won MTV awards, one for best female video, with Janet Jackson, and the other for best male video, with Chris Isaak.
Ritts is survived by his mother, Shirley Ritts; a brother, Rory; a sister, Christy, and his partner, Erik Hyman.
Arrangements are still being made for a private family funeral and a memorial service in January, a spokesman said.