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Saturday, 12 March 2016


Thanks Mike. Always fascinating to see footage of photographers at work, and Ritts' B&W work is gorgeous.

I couldn't help noticing Herb's use of the 'human tripod' with his big Mamiya rig. I have a vague memory of an earlier post that mentioned suchlike, along the lines of "XXX's favorite brand of tripod was his assistant Bob" but I can't find it.

Oh, and that big cottony cushion in place of the normal rubber viewfinder eyepiece is genius, especially for wearers of glasses. I wonder if that's a commercial product. Perhaps it's something his 'tripod' rigged up...

[I think the quote you're thinking of might be from Richard Avedon, who, around the time of the "In the American West" project, was asked if his camera had a motor drive. (He was using an 8x10 view camera, which of course can't use a motor drive.) He replied, "I have a motorized assistant."

Was that it? --Mike]

Ritts produced some lovely photos but he was always a little too SoCal slick for my tastes. I'll give him this though: his Africa seems to have been the prototype for dozens of books in which fashion photographers went to colorful poor countries to shoot colorful locals who "posed like naturals".

(In fairness, the same might be said of Irving Penn, many years before. But somehow his photos of Africans strike me as more documentary and less purely statements in visual style. I realize I'm drawing a pretty fine line here.)

He was a superb photographer in my opinion, such a fine sense of form. It would be nice, though, if equal attention were given to his printer(s). They were obviously excellent at their craft.

[On page 3 of "Herb Ritts: L.A. Style"...


...it says, "Ritts had a keen business sense and a knack for directing people. He enjoyed the work and assembled a crew of talented assistants and printers who strove to exceed his high expectation." --Mike]

"He loved hard light" That's a great quote.

["Hard" meaning contrasty, of course. --Mike]

John Holland asked: Oh, and that big cottony cushion in place of the normal rubber viewfinder eyepiece is genius, especially for wearers of glasses. I wonder if that's a commercial product.

Its a motion picture camera eyepiece cushion, available in different shapes and sizes for less than $10.00. http://bluestarproducts.ca/eyecushions.php

@John Holland the eyepiece cushion may be from the motion picture world. It looks similar to ones I saw on Arriflex cameras when I worked in film/tv.

Superb and inspiring work from Herb Ritts.

Love Herb RItts' work. Especially his direction in "WIcked Game" video of Chris Isaak.

The human tripod in the video reminds me of the similar technology found in the Voice Activated Lightstand, or VAL. It can be operated remotely from the camera position. : ]

"He loved hard light" That's a great quote.

["Hard" meaning contrasty, of course. --Mike]

meaning difficult, for me, of course :-)

Wow, what a great, succinct short about the great man. I'm photographing a wedding in about six hours, and usually find "hard" light challenging... and it looks like it will be, but it's between three and 7 pm, so I am now fired up to go and experiment. My bride is gorgeous, and is a music teacher, so could well be open to some "experimental Herb Ritts-like shots" as well as the "conventional " ones which are necessary. We are going to have fun! A timely reminder and inspiration, thanks, Mike.

A nice counterpoint to the m43 posts previously. Although he could had dispensed with the extra assistant:)

The Getty exhibit was great- http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/ritts/
LA is full of great photo exhibits- Catherine Opie at the Hammer right now, along with an exhibit about Black Mountain College with lots of photos by well known photographers including the Newhalls-https://hammer.ucla.edu.
On our "must see list" is an exhibit on Japanese abstract photography from the 1930s at the Japanese-American Museum in Little Tokyo.


Yeah, that's the one. Funny, I was thinking of Avedon while watching this, in the sense that Ritts' preferred lighting was almost the polar opposite of Avedon's. Ritt is kind of like Weston with supermodels (in a good way, of course ;) I should probably use your link and buy the book.

c.d embrey and David Cope:
Thanks for the tip!

And people say you couldn't hand-hold the Mamiya 6x7!

Ooh, I'd disagree that "hard" means "contrasty". It means "sharp" is what it means -- very specifically, it means that the edges of the shadows are sharp. The contrast, the range between the brightest and darkest bits of the scene, may well be identical, but hardness vs. softness is still important.

Hi Mike,
Good afternoon. I am a regular long time reader of your blog. But never commented before. I love reading your posts, greatly.

I would like to add, in addition to all the other great remarks, that Mr. Ritts work is very reminiscent of Herbert List. He (Mr. List) was a Magnum photographer. and you can see his influence in Herb Ritts work. Also Leni Riefenstahl. Her olympia work for example and Robert Mapplethorpe's work (poses, not lighting per se).

Also currently, in my opinion, Bruce Weber, Peter Lindbergh, Brian Bowen Smith (who assisted Herb Ritts), shoots in similar style (Similar lighting and the way they pose their subjects etc). Obviously, not all thier photos look the same, sometimes they have similar feel to it.

Bruce Weber: Look at any of his A&F ads

Peter Lindbergh: one example

Here is a link to BBS's book cover: very HR like.


Obviously, artists are influenced by many things and comes up with their own creative formula. I enjoy Herb Ritts work greatly and have quite a number of his books. I just wanted to mention these other photographers, so if you enjoyed HR's work, you can check out their work. They are all great photographers on their own right. Again, I am not talking about anyone copying someone else. Just that they are taking inspirations from similar sources, maybe. thanks and take care, KA

If I recall correctly, Herb Ritts was the second photographer I was aware of, after St. Ansel. I was just a pup back in the 80's, starting to become aware of the world around me.

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