Master of Iconography, Herb Ritts: L.A. Style


Friday, August 24, 2012

"Herb Ritts: L.A. Style" book cover 

In this modern age of image, how you look and present yourself has become the crux of importance. This focus on image became crafted throughout our post modern age via television, music, film, and advertising. This lens became the way we "see" ourselves. Yet in the world of contemporary art, it is the photographer who hones and perfects this craft and brings it in its presentation to us, the viewer (or subject sometimes) with an interesting outcome. No other modern photographer has done it in such a way as Herb Ritts, who use of natural light, simple composition, and emotional resonance has captivated us and brought to the most iconic and prolific images of celebrity, fashion, commerce, music, and art. At the apex of sensuality, nature, individuality, shadow, celebrity, and style stood Ritts, who became its master and brought a truly unique and starkly simple view of the end of the 20th century.

I became a huge Herb Ritts fan in the mid 80s when I became familiar with his work through the images he produced for celebrities like Richard Gere and Madonna, in ad campaigns for Revlon and Calvin Klein, and the countless fashion magazine pictorials found in the pages of "Vanity Fair", "Interview", "Vogue", and "Harpers Bazaar" Magazines. His use of the uber-models of the day (Cindy, Christy, Naomi, Stephanie, Helena, Tony, Djimon, et al) not only made them recognizable but made them into stars in their own right and catapulated anything they were involved in into fashion spectaculars. Yet Ritts utilized them in traditional ways befitting a model: as a chameleon of pose, light, and shape sculpted in the forms through the hands/lens of the artist. The same thing can be said when he created memorable portraits for celebrities: using their personality and individuality to elevate the portrait to a personal moment fluid with freedom and expression of his subject. And these models and stars regularly worked with Ritts and enjoyed the artistically natural and collaborative process he imbued on his projects and it shows throughout his body of work.

On view at the Getty Center is the fantastic photographic retrospective "Herb Ritts: L.A. Style". It is a broad mix of well-known and lesser seen works by Ritts, who in the late 70s began his ouevre and left us too soon. It is an interesting show: sectioned off in group areas such as "Nudes" (his most striking work), "Celebrity Portraits" (where his signature evolves and shines and elevates the genre of celebrity itself), "Music Videos and Commercials" (his work in movement form and where he changed the entire scope of music videos for the best), and "Fashion" (at the ultimate top of the fashion chain, Ritts creates indelibly wonderful imagery and editorial work). One of my favorite items is the Britney Spears Vogue Magazine cover (Novemeber 2001) and its original two composite shots with art direction touch up notes on the Britney photo itself alongside the finished magazine cover because, as great as Ritts' portrait is by itself, we get to glimpse what it takes to show "perfection" (those edit notes made me chuckle a bit) so that an image becomes branded as "Vogue". I also enjoyed re-viewing the award winning music video he shot for Janet Jackson's "Love will Never Do (Without You)", shown in its entirety as his signature video work (although Madonna's "Cherish" was his premiere foray into the genre); it still is a great 5 minutes of artistic magic to this day. I did wish the Getty included the Ritts directed video for Michael Jackson's "In The Closet" featuring model Naomi Campbell but it was absent perhaps because of its similarities to Janet's video or some situation having to do with Michael's estate, perhaps (in its place there is the Rolling Stones Magazine cover of MJ, a still from that video shoot)...? I'm sure there are some hidden gems that the Herb Ritts Foundation has tucked away somewhere and perhaps in future retrospectives we may get the chance to see them but the Getty has put together a good show and it is definitely one to go and experience for yourself and enjoy the scope and breadth of this wonderful artist's contribution to the world.

The Getty Center presents the retrospective until September 2, 2012 before it moves next to the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Don't miss it!

(photo via Getty and the companion book can be purchased by clicking on the highlighted link)


The Herb Ritts Foundation 

The Getty Center--"Herb Ritts: L.A. Style" 

Strike The Ultimate Pose


Thursday, August 16, 2012

On the afternoon of March 20, 1990, I secretly skipped sixth period to go to my best friends house and witness the world premiere of the most anticipated music video to air on MTV that season (and, well for the rest of that decade). Little did I know then that this music video would become an iconic event for me and would shape my future in its delicate way. It revealed to me that art, in its infinitely vast shape, could come together and create an entirely new depth of form to its newest art form (then, music videos) and bridge the past through homage, shape the future through imitation, and bring to the masses a long-thriving underground gay dance culture.
That day my ears danced to the progressive beat, my body moved to the rhythm, my eyes devoured the imagery, and my heart was touched. To this day, that song and especially that music video, continues to move me in joyful ways and it has been such a delight to watch its evolution through the myriad of numerous performances over the years. Back in 1990 I was witnessing the beginning of the next best thing, I was witnessing the moment something becomes a classic, an icon, and comes to an apex from which it has never come down from.
In honour of not only that moment but to the person who created this wonderful piece of art on the day they came into creation, I will share with you what has become my real piece of joy, and, for me strikes with the ultimate in style. And like a call to the sea, let's heed the words and follow suit: "strike a pose, there's nothing to it...", I give you "Vogue":

  Madonna, "Vogue" directed by David Fincher

Madonna as Marie Antionette performing "Vogue" at the MTV Video Music Awards, 1990

"Vogue" from the Blond Ambition Tour 1990 Nice, France; wearing costumes designed by Jean Paul Gaultier

from the Girlie Show 1993 Sydney, Australia; wearing costumes designed by Dolce & Gabanna

from the Re-Invention Tour 2004/film "I'm Going To Tell You a Secret" directed by Jonas Akerlund; wearing costumes designed by Arianne Phillips and corset by Christian Lacroix

from the Sticky & Sweet Tour 2009; wearing costumes designed by Ricardo Tischi for Givenchy and Arianne Phillips

from the Super Bowl Halftime Show January 2012 ("Music" performed with LMFAO); wearing costumes designed by Jean Paul Gaultier

from the MDNA Tour 2012 Milan, Italy (followed by "Candy Shop"); wearing costumes designed by Jean Paul Gaultier

The classic endures and thrives on. And may you continue to do the same, Madonna. Happy Birthday and may you forever be in Vogue.


(all videos via YouTube and are in the public domain)

Golden Moment: Olympics Closing Ceremony London 2012


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

One of the best moments during the amazing London Olympics Closing Ceremony was the tribute to British Fashion, featuring the most iconic British models to have walked any runway in our post modern times (Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Stella Tennant, Karen Elson,  Lily Cole, Georgia May Jaggar, Jourdon Dunn, and David Gandy) wearing the globally influential designs of the greats of Brit Mode (Christopher Kane, Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Erdem, Victoria Beckham, Paul Smith, Stephen Jones, Jonathan Saunders, and Vivienne Westwood), all to the sounds of David Bowie's "Fashion". You couldn't ask for a better moment and a better tribute to the United Kingdom's vast contribution to the fashion industry. 

At the Olympics Closing Ceremony London 2012
(fr L-R: Stella Tennant, Lily Cole, Karen Elson, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Jourdon Dunn, and David Gandy) (photo via CBS News/Getty)
In conjunction to the live presentation, Vogue UK has published a fashion editorial in the September 2012 issue with each of the models wearing their respective outfits from the ceremony, photographed by Nick Knight. Another wonderful tribute, this time in print. 

(photo set above, via Vogue UK/Nick Knight/

The entire cast of models walking the newsprint catwalk at the Closing Ceremony
(fr L-R: Lily Cole, Karen Elson, Stella Tennant, Kate Moss, Lily Donaldson, Naomi Campbell, Jourdon Dunn, Georgia May Jagger, and David Gandy) (photo via Daily Mail/Getty)

The fashion fun actually didn't end with the tribute but was found through out the show, with the various British performers showing the world that the UK definitely has totally winning style, from George Michael in dark leather, Annie Lennox in pirate chic wearing a Vivienne Westwood basque, Jessie J in an asymmetrical beaded catsuit, the Pet Shop Boys in futuristic cutting edge sequined stripes and fur shoulder pads, to the Spice Girls giving us pure zigazigah spicy sass the only way those girls can. London 2012 showed the world that Brits have a unique and golden style all their own. And that's brilliant good.


Vogue UK; 'Midas Touch' | Film Fashion & Culture

Supermodels in Midas Touch by Nick Knight for Vogue UK | Design Scene

 The September Issue 2012 | Vogue UK

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