Through his distinctive style and composition, Herb Ritts became one of the leading photographers to emerge during the 1980s. Ritts’s intimate sense of portraiture, his innovative approach to fashion, and his updated classical treatment of the nude that won him international acclaim and a place within the canon of American photography. His original aesthetic became a characteristic style that embodied facets of a fresh outdoor life of leisure in Southern California differentiating him from his East Coast peers still predominantly doing studio work. Ritts made use of bright California sunlight during his outdoors shoots making use of what he called the “golden hour,” a brief period of unique light just before dawn or dusk that also produces bold contrasts by casting strong shadows. Within this environment, he would celebrate the myriad shapes and textures of the human form. Ritts’s eye was drawn to clean, pure lines and strong, simple shapes while having a fondness for elegant compositions that often emphasized balance and the order of classical style.
In addition to photography, he also directed 13 music videos and more than 50 commercials throughout his career. Exploration of the human figure in its idealized form is a recurring theme in his video work. Ritts had a particular affinity for photographing actors, musicians and cultural icons. The artist that he collaborated with most frequently was Madonna. Generally, Ritts preferred to capture his subjects in spontaneous, playful moments such as these. Today, Ritts’s legacy lives on as evidenced by a retrospective at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts throughout this year. His contributions to several genres of photography and to larger popular culture continue to inspire and influence both photographers and collectors.