Herb Ritts and Mylene Farmer

Speaking about an album Anamorphosée, Mylene said:

“For the album cover, I absolutely wanted to work with an excellent photographer. That’s why I called on Herb Ritts! When I saw this photo of me without a head, I told myself that was exactly the message I wanted to get across. The conscious is not inscribed in any context, it travels freely. I told myself that was the concept!”

Radio FFN , on 01/02/1996

“Herb Ritts’ choice was not innocent. I knew he could take me to a certain sensuality without giving me the impression of being naked. Perhaps there is also the word woman which scares me less and which I totally accept. These photos are perhaps more female.”

Young and Pretty , on 04/01/1996

So who is Herb Ritts? And why did Mylene pick him for her Grand Comback of 1995?

Herbert Ritts Jr. (August 13, 1952 – December 26, 2002) was an American fashion photographer and director known for his photographs of celebrities, models, and other cultural figures throughout the 1980s and 1990s. His work concentrated on black and white photography and portraits, often in the style of classical Greek sculpture, which emphasized the human shape.

In the late 1970s, the mostly self-taught, Los Angeles–based photographer Herb Ritts stumbled upon success, after his impromptu images of his longtime friend Richard Gere—taken at a California gas station, on a lark—were widely published and well received. Interestingly the photos became a turning point for both of them – Richard and Herb.

For the next two decades, Ritts distinguished himself from his East Coast counterparts with his clean, minimal aesthetic and knack for Southern California light and landscapes. He also built an incomparable portfolio of fashion and celebrity portraiture as well as provocative, sculptural nudes, often featuring famous athletes and dancers.

Before his untimely death in 2002, at the age of 50, Ritts had been the master behind 13 music videos (Madonna, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears), more than 50 television commercials (Chanel, Calvin Klein, Estée Lauder), hundreds of magazine spreads.

In August 1995 he does a photoshoot which becomes an iconic cover for Mylene Farmer fourth studio album Anamorphosée released on 17 October 1995 and also became a turning point in her career.

Was there something mystically contagious in those hands of  Herb Ritts – they have create magical captures but perhaps, there was also something more than meets the eye…

See for yourself…

Back in 1977, Herb Ritts, then an amateur photographer, met up with his good friend, the equally unknown actor Richard Gere. One day, the two were cruising together around San Bernardino, California when their car got a flat. As legend has it, the two ambled into a gas station, and while they awaited service, Ritts started shooting his pal. Three months later, the well-oiled images landed in the pages of Vogue, Esquire, and Mademoiselle.

In an interview with François Quintin in 1999, Ritts talked about this famous picture of his friend Richard, which depicts Gere as a new American hero—and which launched Ritts’s photography career. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“I knew Richard’s girlfriend, Penny, who was an actress, and she introduced me to Richard. Actually, when I first started dabbling in photography, I was still working for my parents as a salesman. Penny was supposed to come to my house to take a head shot, but she never showed. Richard arrived; he was going to meet her there. I asked if I could take a picture of him, and he said no—he was very shy and had very long hair—but finally I did.

“A week or so later, we were driving around in Penny’s car and got a flat tire and ended up in a desert gas station, where we took pictures. Later that year, Richard told his new publicist, “Oh, Herb took a couple of rolls of me.” He had fairly well-known photographers shooting him already; it happened quickly for him. So, I sent the negatives and forgot about it. What did I know? I wasn’t a photographer. Three months later, the pictures appeared in American Vogue, Esquire, and Mademoiselle. Big spreads. One day soon thereafter, Mademoiselle tracked me down and asked me to do Brooke Shields, and I said sure. I didn’t say “I wasn’t a photographer.” 😊

Herb Ritts

Here is what Richard Gere said about Herb Ritts

“I was 26 or so when I met Herb Ritts. Somehow, he was in this group of actors. He was the one who was really nice to be around, unlike a lot of people in that group who weren’t, including me. Sometime in the mid-’70s, I remember him telling me that he was going to take night classes in photography. Later, I remember calling him and saying, “Let’s go riding into the desert and shoot some stuff.” The car in that shot (right) was my girlfriend’s, and we got a flat tire. That’s why it’s at the gas station. We didn’t have a sense that it was significant. We were just shooting, having fun. But it’s actually a complex photo with the juxtaposition of hard and soft and different angles.

“There’s a very real reason why Herb was on top of everyone’s list of still photographers. He captured something in his subjects — an essential quality. We recognize ourselves. He had a warmth in his photographs that everyone liked.

“Herb shot people he knew and had a feeling for, and if he didn’t know them, he had a respect for them. I don’t think he shot someone if he didn’t like or respect them — I don’t think he could have done it.

“On set, Herb created a very easy, flowing atmosphere. He’s one of the warmest human beings I’ve ever known. He loved to use natural light, and he knew which hours of the day and which sides of the studio the light came in and how to bounce it the right way. Something that I don’t think everyone realizes about Herb is that he was an artist. He did fashion photography as a job but had the soul of an artist, and he wanted that shot.

“He was the kind of guy that whenever I see mutual friends who loved Herb, we start crying.”

Here is Mylene Farmer photo session with Herb Ritts in august 1995 in LA

Unfortunately, Herb passed away untimely only at age of 50 in 2002. We are however have something of him to hold on to and be grateful for: that photoshoot in 1995 which carved  Mylene’s image from the Anamorphosée into our memory and heart forever.

Published by Ella V. Sky

Writer. Poet. Woman. Soul

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