In Depth

Herb Ritts: Life through a lens

From celebrity portraits to work showing (a lot of) the human body, a new exhibition celebrates the photographer's iconic oeuvre

Herb Ritts sits within a select group of 20th-century fashion photographers whose work not only graced the covers of the most influential magazines but has come to define the popular culture of the time.

As the 1990s saw the rise of the supermodel to true celebrity status, Ritts become friend, confidant and photographer of choice to some of the era's biggest names. He is remembered for his sensual, dramatic black-and-white photos of cultural greats, many of which remain some of the most iconic images to emerge from the period.

He is being honoured with a new exhibition at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris, showing until 30 October. En Pleine Lumiere brings together some of his most prominent works, from his striking nude portrait of Alek Wek, taken in 1998, to perhaps his most famous photograph, Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989, named after its supermodel subjects, surnamed Seymour, Crawford, Turlington, Patitz and Campbell respectively. It demonstrates beautifully his strength of composition and ability to analyse the body's angles.

"There was something magical about when you stepped in front of his camera and what happened then," says Crawford. "I've had the opportunity to work with everyone, from Helmut Newton to Avedon to Penn, but probably the images that are the most timeless of me were shot by Herb, and are some of my favourite images of myself."

Ritts' artistic reach stretched beyond the world of fashion to art, music and more. Madonna was a frequent collaborator, and a playful portrait of her, which epitomised the spontaneous manner in which he would capture his subjects, became the cover of her third album, True Blue. He later joined her on the Who's That Girl World Tour in Japan in 1987 to promote the record, taking behind-the-scenes shots.

More than a decade after his death, his masterful elevation of commerce to an artistic form continues to be a key influence on photography.

Herb Ritts: En Pleine Lumiere is at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, Paris, until 30 October. mep-fr.org

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