Body of work

MARK MCKENNA, close friend and producer of legendary photographer HERB RITTS, talks about the lensman and his iconic shots. Herb Ritts was one of the most successful photographers of the ’s and ’s. His work for Calvin Klein and Gianni Versace, and music videos for Madonna and Michael Jackson, are legendary. His images graced magazines like US Vogue and Vanity Fair, and influenced a whole era of fashion photography —supermodels would line up to step in front of his lens. In 2002, at age 50, Ritts died of complications from pneumonia —he was HIV positive. Mark McKenna, Ritts’friend and producer, and chairman of the Herb Ritts Foundation at Berlin gallery Camera Work, explains what makes Ritts one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. How did your relationship change in the many years you worked with Herb Ritts? I began working with Herb in the late ’s. When I started, I was his camera assistant, and his organisation was really small. He was already noted in Europe for his fashion campaigns, but he basically only had a photo assistant and a printer in the darkroom. It changed around 1990, after he did Madonna’video. After that, he really developed into a director, and his acclaim became bigger. By the time Herb passed away in 2002, he had a staff of 14 and I was the executive producer of his work. Ritts was such a trusted celebrity photographer. How did he manage to connect with people so well? The word you used is trusted, and he really was. Herb always had great relationships with his subjects. They knew that he had nothing but their best interests at his heart. He wasngoing to make a photo of them looking awkward. I think a lot of that came from where he grew up. His next-door neighbour was Steve McQueen. Herb didnknow him as a celebrity, just the guy next door to go riding motorcycles with. What would a Herb Ritts shoot be like? Always extremely relaxed. The size of the shoot was small —a couple of assistants, make-up and hairstylists, a fashion stylist and a subject. Herb liked to make things as easy and comfortable as possible, so he didnreally have these shoots that started at six in the morning. Things were well thought out, but everything looked as if it was very easy, relaxed and spontaneous. And most of his photographs werendone in the studio, but outside in natural light. He didnwant anything to constrain how he was making the pictures. It was playful, it was fun. HERB RITTSLooking back, what would you say is his most iconic photograph? The photo that everybody sees now and associates with Herb is the one of Stephanie Seymour, Tatjana Patitz, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell, naked and kind of grouped very close. People associate that image with Herb, but italso connected to what was happening in 1989. This idea of the supermodel was coming forth, [it] where fashion was, where celebrity was. Ritts also became a famous music video director. Was that a difficult transition? For the first video that he did with Madonna, he actually held the camera; he was the cinematographer as well as the director. He ended up shooting about 19 hours of film for a three-and-a-half-minute video. Once he got that behind him he realised that you need a team of people in video work, in the same way that you have a team of people in still photography. Did he like photos or videos more? He was happy with both, but I think at the end of the day it was the still picture that inspired him. He understood that one moment —that 1/125th of a second. He liked making the picture. It was his, completely his, only his.

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