Herb Ritts and Cowboys

By Jo Phillips

With the “Herb Ritts: Super” exhibition at the Hamiltons gallery coming up this month, let’s take a look at the legendary photographer on which it is all about. Herb Ritts was a world-renowned American fashion photographer whose works are characterized by black and white photography and portraits.

Christy Turlington (B), Los Angeles, 1988 © Herb Ritts Foundation

He began his photographic career in the late 70s and gained a reputation as a master of art and commercial photography. Furthermore, he created portraits for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Interview, and Rolling Stone and he also produced advertising campaigns for Calvin Klein, Chanel, Donna Karan, Gap, Gianfranco Ferré, Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Levi’s, Pirelli, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Valentino.

Claudia Schiffer (A), Malibu, 1990 © Herb Ritts Foundation

His works often challenged conventional notions of gender or race and furthermore, social history and fantasy were both captured by his photographs. He was mainly self-taught without any formal training in photography, which is one of the reasons why his style is so distinctive. Unlike many other photographers of the time, he preferred to work outdoors and had very simple equipment requirements, which is why he was known as the “anti-glamour” photographer. The reason why he took the photographs outside was because he wanted to make use of the natural afternoon light. He also liked to use natural places as backgrounds such as the sea and the sky and his works show an unique use of shadows, shape, movement and texture. Model Christy Turlington says of him that he “didn’t love when fashion got super complicated; it definitely was not his thing. So in those kind of situations he would use lighting and movement.” Another unique technique that Ritt used was that he always tried to find a rhythm together with the models as they worked, which created spontaneity and magic between them. The photographs are like a natural collaboration between photographer and subject and allow the model’s personality to shine through. Therefore, Ritts became close friends with many of his famous sitters.

Cindy Crawford (A) Los Angeles, 1988 © Herb Ritts Foundation

Instead of photographing sleek, elegant supermodels like Herb Ritts did, the photographs by Dieter Blum focus on the historical, american idea of rakish men: Cowboys.
His book “Cowboys. The First Shooting 1992”, published by Hatje Cantz, shows unpublished photographs from the trial photo-shoot for Marlboro among other images. Unlike any other contemporary artist, Dieter Blum has dealt with and explored the subject of cowboys and the sixty photographs taken for Marlboro in the “Cowboy” series are being assembled for the first time in their entirety in this exhibition catalogue. Within his photographs, a cowboy isn’t represented as a lonesome man, but as a successful man who stands at the bar, reads the newspaper and smokes a cigarette.

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The photographer of this book, Dieter Blum, is a contemporary German artist. Since 1964, he has worked as a freelance photographer in the fields of culture and report for famous magazines such as “Der Spiegel”, “Stern”, “Time”, and “Vanity Fair”. At the beginning of the 1980s, he took a photograph of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned by famous conductor Herbert von Karajan. Since then, he dedicates big parts of his works to the themes of music, dance, and art. Between 1992 and 2004, Blum and his colleague Hannes Schmidt were the only two European photographers who were working on the famous Marlboro campaign. His artworks had been exhibited in many galleries and museums worldwide and furthermore, he also published several photography books and won many awards on his works.  In 2015, Blum received the Médaille Vermeil from the Societé Arts-Sciences-Lettres in Paris for his life’s work – the first photographer, and one of only a very small number of Germans, to do so in the society’s 100-year history.


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The “Herb Ritts: Super” exhibtion will take place from the 25th of November to the 27th of January 2017.
Check out the website here.

Find out more about the book on the Hatje Cantz website here.

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