SoCal Cool: The Getty Opens an Exhibition of Los Angeles Photographer Herb Ritts's Work

Herb Ritts, "Pierre and Yuri, Los Angeles," 1999 (detail)
(© Herb Ritts Foundation / Courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation)

A Herb Ritts image is unmistakably recognizable. Those of a certain age who aren’t closely familiar with the late photographer’s work will easily remember his most iconic shots: the 1979 portrait of Richard Gere at an auto shop, the 1986 album cover for Madonna’s record “True Blue,” and the 1989 nude supermodel group photograph, “Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood.” Ritts also directed the music video for Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” where the singer romps with a nude Helena Christensen in the sand, and Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” with cameos by shirtless hunks Antonio Sabàto Jr. and Djimon Hounsou. Ritts’s oeuvre will be the subject of a J. Paul Getty Museum exhibition, “Herb Ritts: L.A. Style,” on view from April 3 to August 26 in Los Angeles.

The exhibition follows last summer’s Getty acquisition of Ritts’s work. The show traces several themes: The first section explores the Los Angeles-based photographer’s celebrity portraiture, including shots of Gere, Madonna, Britney Spears, and Mel Gibson. The second part centers on Ritts’s fashion photography, which was featured in Elle, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as ad campaigns for Versace, Chanel, and Calvin Klein. Two memorable works here are photos of Cindy Crawford posing in a gorgeous dress on the beach and Christy Turlington’s décolletage. Ritts’s talent for capturing the human body is well represented, from nude portraits to photographs of athletes like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Visitors will also get to watch Ritts’s work as a music video and commercial director.

“Through hard work and an imaginative vision, Herb Ritts fashioned himself into one of the top photographers to emerge from the 1980s,” said the exhibition’s curator the museum’s associate curator of photographs, Paul Martineau, in a release. “This exhibition will reconsider and broaden our understanding of Ritts’s career, particularly in the areas of fashion and figure studies.”

Sadly, Ritts’s life was cut short in 2002 at age 50, due to pneumonia complications and AIDS. Through exhibitions like “Herb Ritts: L.A. Style,” his spectacular black-and-white images will live on.

Click on the slide show to see highlights from “Herb Ritts: L.A. Style,” on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from April 3 to August 26.