Happy 69th Birthday Herb Ritts

Today is the 69th birthday of the photographer Herb Ritts. His photographs helped set the style of the 80s and 90s. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Herb Ritts
DATE OF BIRTH: August 13, 1952
DATE OF DEATH: December 26, 2002
PLACE OF DEATH:  Los Angeles, CA

BEST KNOWN FOR: DescriptionHerbert “Herb” Ritts Jr. was an American fashion photographer and director known for his photographs of celebrities, models, and other cultural figures throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Born in Los Angeles, to a Jewish family, Ritts began his career working in the family furniture business. His father, Herb Ritts Sr., was a businessman, while his mother, Shirley Ritts, was an interior designer. He moved to the East Coast to attend Bard College in New York, where he majored in economics and art history, graduating in 1975.

Later, while living in Los Angeles, he became interested in photography when he and friend Richard Gere, then an aspiring actor, decided to shoot some photographs in front of an old jacked up Buick. The picture gained Ritts some coverage and he began to be more serious about photography. He photographed Brooke Shields for the cover of the October 12, 1981 edition of Elle and he photographed Olivia Newton-John for her Physical album in 1981. Five years later he replicated that cover pose with Madonna for her 1986 release True Blue.

Ritts was openly gay.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Ritts prominently photographed celebrities in various locales throughout California. Some of his subjects during this time included Cher, Elizabeth Taylor, Vincent Price, Madonna, Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp, Ronald Reagan,[ David Bowie, Courtney Love, Liv Tyler, Matthew McConaughey, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, and Mariah Carey.

He also took many fashion and nude photographs of fashion models Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford, including “Tatjana, Veiled Head, Tight View, Joshua Tree, 1988.”

Ritts’ work with those models ushered in the 1990s era of the supermodel and was consecrated by one of his most celebrated images, “Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989” taken for Rolling Stone Magazine.

He also worked for Interview, Esquire, Mademoiselle, Glamour, GQ, Newsweek, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone, Time, Vogue, Allure, Vanity Fair, Details, and Elle. Ritts took publicity portraits for Batman, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin which appeared on magazine covers and merchandise throughout the 1990s.

He published books on photography for fashion designers including Giorgio Armani, Revlon, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth Arden, Donna Karan, Cartier, Guess, Maybelline, TAG Heuer, Lacoste, Gianfranco Ferré, Levi’s, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Acura, CoverGirl, Lancôme, and Valentino.

From 1996 to 1997 his work was displayed at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, attracting more than 250,000 people to the exhibit,[16] and in 2003 a solo exhibition was held at the Daimaru Museum, in Kyoto, Japan.

The first video he directed was Madonna in “Cherish” in 1989. In 1991, he won two MTV Video Awards for his work on music videos by Janet Jackson and Chris Isaak. Ritts also directed the music video for Michael Jackson’s “In the Closet”, which featured supermodel Naomi Campbell. Ritts also worked on other projects, including directing and acting, on Mariah Carey’s “My All”(1997), Jennifer Lopez’s sepia video “Ain’t It Funny”, Janet Jackson’s Design of a Decade: 1986–1996 (1996), Intimate Portrait: Cindy Crawford (1998), Murder in the First (1995), Britney Spears’ “Don’t Let Me Be The Last To Know” (2001), and Shakira’s “Underneath Your Clothes”.

On December 26, 2002, Ritts died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 50. According to Ritts’ publicist, “Herb was HIV-positive, but this particular pneumonia was not PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia), a common opportunistic infection of AIDS. But at the end of the day, his immune system was compromised.”

Music videos

1990“Love Will Never Do (Without You)”Janet Jacksonwith Antonio Sabàto, Jr. and Djimon Hounsou
1991“Wicked Game”Chris Isaaksecond version of music video; with Helena Christensen
“Way of the World”Tina Turner(uncredited)
1992“In The Closet”Michael Jacksonwith Naomi Campbell
1994“Please Come Home for Christmas”Jon Bon Joviwith Cindy Crawford
1996“Let It Flow”Toni Braxton 
1998“My All”Mariah Carey 
1999“Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing”Chris IsaakRemix version, with Laetitia Casta
2000“Telling Stories”Tracy Chapman 
2001“Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know”Britney Spears 
“Ain’t It Funny”Jennifer Lopez 
2002“Underneath Your Clothes”Shakira 


  • Pictures, Twin Palms Publishers, 1988
  • Men/Women, Twin Palms Publishers, 1989
  • Duo, Twin Palms Publishers, 1991
  • Notorious, Little, Brown and Company/Bulfinch Press, 1992
  • Africa, Little, Brown and Company/Bulfinch Press, 1994
  • Work, Little, Brown and Company/Bulfinch Press, 1996
  • Herb Ritts, Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, 1999
  • Herb Ritts L.A. Style, Getty Publications, 2012


  • Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA, June 24 – September 18, 2016.[19]
  • Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, OH, March 13, 2015 – February 2016[20][21]
  • Herb Ritts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, March 14 – November 8, 2015[21][22]
  • Herb Ritts: Super, Hamilton’s Gallery, London. November 25, 2016 – January 29, 2017.[23]
  • Herb Ritts: Super II, Hamilton’s Gallery, London. January 30 – March 10, 2017.

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