Herbert Ritts was a California boy. Growing up, he lived in Steve McQueen’s neighborhood in Brentwood, which, according to many biographies I have read recently, was an instrumental synergy that launched his comfort level with celebrity.
The quotes from his high profile portrait subjects include statements about how using daylight was his strength and that they felt at ease in front of his lens:
“Herb made me look how I wish I looked when I woke up in the morning.” – Cindy Crawford
“In his sweet disarming way he suggested that we work together again and I agreed to it. And that was the beginning of an incredibly long and fruitful working relationship, but it was also the beginning of a great friendship.” – Madonna
“Working with Herb was more like just hanging out with a friend. We’d joke, chatter and gossip and at the end of the day he would have captured the whole thing in the lens. He was a great guy.” – David Bowie
Herb Ritts – The Rock Portraits is on display at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York (5798 State Highway 80, Cooperstown, NY 13326). The photographs are on loan from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio until September 2, 2019.
The show is a mirror of my youth. So many images that I have seen on album covers, in music videos, in fashion magazines – Herb Ritts is like an old friend. It is as if you know him. Knew him. You can envision him working because it is evident that it was not work. It was more like a relationship, the way he presented people at ease in the present moment, not thinking about what they must do later in the week or later that day, but being in the now. You can see this in the eye contact, in the way the light shines on their faces and in the crispness of the images.
Ritts captures the essence of his subjects. What I see in the photographs is the “authentic self”, the real person behind the fame. The Bob Dylan pictures are gritty, as though the man cannot hide a lifetime of struggling with inner demons. The Bruce Springsteen images reflect a certain shyness beneath the success. And the Madonna images are, to me, the most iconic, spanning the ’80s and ’90s and showing us a vulnerable, little Italian girl who grows in confidence and artistic resonance with every click. We get to witness that evolution, that living history, and that is a beautiful thing. ❤
It is this contrast between the legend and the human spirit that gives credence to Ritts as artist rather than commercial photographer for hire, and is the reason why these photographs and videos belong in a museum. They are evidence of the art of living, the art of performing, the art of communicating a visual language of persona, and the art of documenting artistic merit as an art. It is all about authenticity.
The photographs are accessorized with costumes and musical instruments, also on loan from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This is Madonna’s. I could totally rock this – OMG, I know it would fit me. Unfortunately, it was on a mannequin and encased in lucite or else it would have been my #ootd.
I took these pictures yesterday, took a day trip to Cooperstown, which I highly recommend! You must go to there! The drive was spectacular – from Syracuse, New York, it is an hour by New York State Thruway then an additional forty minutes down Route 28. Cooperstown is truly a magical place. Home to so many attractions – the Glimmerglass Opera House, the Baseball Hall Of Fame, the legendary Cardiff Giant (on view at the Farmer’s Museum).
And the Fenimore Art Museum is on the lake. It is just incredibly gorgeous there – it was my first time and I felt like Cinderella arriving at the castle for the ball. Just spectacular!
They are open today 10 am – 5 pm. Call (607) 547-1400 for more information about this wonderful place. ❤
****From the Fenimore website
HERB RITTS: THE ROCK PORTRAITS
April 2 – September 2, 2019
Known for his elegant and minimalist work, and his mastery of photographing in natural light, photographer Herb Ritts (1952–2002) had a gift for turning stars into icons. Here, in the first curated collection of his photos of some of music’s most celebrated artists, visitors will see how he captured the likes of David Bowie, Tina Turner, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Prince, Cher, Madonna and many more—the world’s biggest music stars—and in the process, helped define their iconic status for generations of fans. See many of his best-known portraits alongside stage costumes and guitars from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
As a native of Los Angeles, Herb Ritts was uniquely attuned to the natural light of the California sun, and preferred to shoot outdoors. He took work seriously and was renowned for posing his subjects in classic, sculptural styles, with little or no pros. He also had a unique, understated way of making his subjects feel comfortable in front of his camera. They trusted him and it’s often that trust and human bond that you see reflected in his portraits. When he died of complications from AIDS at the age of 50, Ritts left behind an extraordinary body of work, that when we see as a whole, demonstrates his undeniable impact on contemporary culture.
The exhibition is sponsored in part by The Clark Foundation, Fenimore Asset Management, and NYCM Insurance.
Panel Discussion – Fenimore Rocks! Herb Ritts and the Image of Rock Music
Saturday, July 13 • 2:00–4:00 pm
Join us as Rock & Roll Hall of Fame president, Greg Harris, moderates a lively talk and cocktail party focusing on Herb Ritts and the impact his photographs had on the image of rock music in the 80s and 90s. The event also features Laurie Kratochvil, former Director of Photography at Rolling Stone magazine, John Covach, Professor of Music Theory and Director of the Institute for Popular Music at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, and Rory Ritts, Herb Ritts’ younger brother. After, join them for cocktails and a buffet on the terrace (cash bar, weather permitting).
The talk is free for museum members; otherwise, included with regular admission (Adults: $12, Seniors: $10.50). Seating in the auditorium is extremely limited and will be available on a first come, first serve basis. Overflow seating will be available with live viewing via a flat-screen monitor.
Rock ‘n’ Reel Film Series – I’m Not There
Saturday, July 27 • 7:00 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm)
Several actors portray legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. (2007, R)
Rock ‘n’ Reel Film Series – Burlesque
Saturday, August 10 • 7:00 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm)
A backstage musical film starring Cher and Christina Aguilera. (2010, PG-13)
Food For Thought – Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits (Lunch)
Wednesday, August 21 • 12:30 pm
with Paul D’Ambrosio, President and CEO of Fenimore Art Museum, and Kevin Gray, Manager of Arts Education
Rock ‘n’ Reel Film Series – Madonna: Truth or Dare
Saturday, August 24 • 7:00 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm)
Documentary chronicling the life of Madonna during her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour. (1991, R) Otsego County native John Draper, former Tour Manager of Madonna’s Blonde Ambition World Tour will be present for a live commentary on the film, giving a rare behind-the-scenes look of what it takes to manage a tour for one of music’s original megastars.
Live Music with Wurliday
Friday, August 30 • 7:00–9:00 pm (takes place across the street at The Farmers’ Museum) FREE ADMISSION!
Hailing from Albany, NY, Wurliday brings together some of the most exciting, dynamic musicians in the live music scene for a lively injection of soul-funk goodness, direct to your ears. You’ll dance all night long! Free admission.
® I LOVE NEW YORK is a registered trademark and service mark of the New York State Department of Economic Development; used with permission.