LA's Getty Center puts Herb Ritts in perspective

Wed Apr 4, 2012 5:17pm EDT
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By Jordan Riefe

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the 1980s and '90s, photographer Herb Ritts' black and white portraits of movie stars and models like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell created a look that was emblematic of the era, and now they are the subject of a major exhibit at Los Angeles' Getty Center.

"Herb Ritts: L.A. Style," which launched on Tuesday and runs through August 26, features renowned work by the artist including vintage prints, magazine covers, commercials and music videos. Around 20 percent of the photographs are on display for the first time. Ritts died in 2002, age 50.

"These were either never seen before or published once in an editorial spread in a magazine, then just sat in the archive," curator Paul Martineau told Reuters. "I was looking to balance the iconic pictures that everyone knows and loves with the pictures that no one knows."

Photographs that "everyone knows and loves" include a seminal portrait of Richard Gere in a San Bernardino gas station in 1977, wearing a t-shirt and smoking a cigarette. The shot was taken while the movie star and Ritts waited for the station attendant to change a flat tire.

Gere's "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" hit theaters a few months later with the actor in a memorable supporting role that launched his career. Within months, the young photographer found his photos in the pages of Vogue, Esquire and Mademoiselle, with the last publication offering him his first assignment photographing Brooke Shields.

Also included at the Getty is the iconic "Fred with Tires" in which a muscular male model stripped to the waist stares at the camera, a heavy tire in each hand. The photo shoot from which it sprang was for an Italian designer, but when Ritts received the clothing, he and his stylist rejected it and dressed his model in overalls instead.

"They had Fred swinging the tires all around the garage," recounted Martineau. "And this picture happened in a moment of repose when the exhausted model just stopped and was saying, ‘Do I need to continue doing this? It's killing me."

The pictures were not what the magazine requested, but it was so powerful they ran them anyway causing a sensation.   Continued...

(L-R) Models Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz and Naomi Campbell in Hollywood, 1989, are pictured in a photograph by photographer Herb Ritts. The image is part of a a new exhibit “Herb Ritts: L.A. Style” currently on display at the Getty Center, which features renowned photographs by the artist, including vintage prints, magazine covers, commercials and music videos, with approximately 20% of the photos on display for the first time. REUTERS/© Herb Ritts Foundation/The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation/Handout