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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.
— As told to Jeanie Pyun. Jessica Hundley contributed to this story.
Herb Ritts: L.A. Style runs April 3 to Aug. 26 at the Getty Center
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