Day Trip: Herb Ritts Exhibit at Cooperstown’s Fenimore Museum

Herb Ritts (1952-2002) may not be a household name. But if you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you certainly are familiar with his images and videos in fashion and popular music.   A matter of fact, many of the images are iconic for that now distant era. A comprehensive overview of his work in the world of music is on view through September 2nd at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown.

Originally from Los Angeles, he attended Bard College in Annandale on the Hudson where he studied economics and art history then returned to Los Angeles to work and live. He began getting interested in photography and photographed his friend a then-fledgling actor Richard Gere in front of a Buick. This series of photos gained him some notoriety. He then embarked on a career in which he shot 2,000,000 rolls of film, almost 2000 photo sessions, over 150 different publications, 400 magazine covers. He was active also as a videographer directing 13 music videos ( including 1990’s  Chris Issaks “Wicked Game and Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do Without You”) and 130 commercials.

His creations were rather unique in that he preferred the use of natural light, rather than the highly controlled world of studio lighting that most portrait photographers prefer. The work was generally minimalist heavily influenced by Edward Weston and the California desert/ coast. He was known as highly personable, he was fun to be with. He relaxed his subjects, was able to convince them to pose in unusual conditions and created natural images.

Among his subjects were Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Madonna, Michael Jackson, U2, Bruce Springsteen Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan.

These musicians are among the many multiple photographs that make up part of this exhibition. Included among these photographs are personal anecdotes from both Herb and his subjects.  Paul McCartney was portrayed using an oversized bass as a prop. The bass happened to be a sculpture at Paul’s property that Herb recognized as a great prop, it was used to display Paul’s playful side. 

Photo by Herb Ritts

Madonna was photographed by Herb multiple times. She became a close personal friend.

The traveling exhibit is curated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and there are some other rock memorabilia included in the exhibit, such as musical instruments and costumes from the era.

The exhibit is at the Museum through September 2nd and there are some special films, lectures and a dance party tied into the exhibit. For more information head to their website.

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