Timeline is a regular feature looking back to events and milestones that have helped us evolve into the community we are today.
Photographer Herb Ritts put down his camera long enough to speak with Metroline about his photography, celebrity connections and the unusual relationship he shares with Richard Gere. He was a hard man to catch, but writer Timothy Nasson finally got Ritts on the phone for an extremely candid interview. Ritts, an openly gay man, was just returning to his Los Angeles home after shooting a Revlon commercial featuring Cindy Crawford.
Although known mostly for his photography of people and landscapes, Ritts had a prolific career in music video. He directed Madonna in her “Cherish” video as well as Michael Jackson’s “In The Closet” and Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do.” But the most famous video Ritts had directed, however, was perhaps the seductive Chris Isaak video “Wicked Game.” Ritts had a number of fragrance commercials under his belt, having directed Calvin Klein’s Escape, Donna Karan Men, Chanel’s Allure and Guess. Ritts was also responsible for directing commercials for Cartier, Levi’s and Revlon.
Despite being considered among the ranks of Hollywood’s most elite, Ritts was the first to admit that his break in photography was nothing short of pure luck, if not even a fluke. At the time, Ritts was good friends with actor Richard Gere’s girlfriend.
Through her, Ritts naturally met Gere, who was just starting out in his career. One day the three friends decided to take a drive out to the desert in Ritts’ old car, but the car got a flat and the three were stranded at a gas station while mechanics fixed the tire. While they were waiting, Ritts grabbed his camera from the car and started taking pictures of Gere standing in front of the pumps and around the station.
“He was just starting out in his career, so he wasn’t too big yet,” Ritts told Nasson. “I thought nothing of the pictures when I got them back, but sent a set to him anyway. Somehow his publicist got a hold of them and thought enough of them to send them to a bunch of magazines in New York,” Ritts continued. As it turned out, the recreational photos Ritts took of Gere out of boredom wound up being published in Vanity Fair, Mademoiselle and Vogue.
It was at that point that Ritts’ career had actually begun. What followed was a series of photography books, Herb Ritts Duo and Herb Ritts Africa. For Ritts, the rest was history. On the topic of his being openly gay, Ritts says that he had some help from Maria Shriver.
“Coming out was never an issue for me. The national declaration happened when [my] good friend Maria Shriver was doing an NBC special entitled The Gay Nineties, which showcased many prominent gay people. She asked if I would be part of it and I never thought twice about it,” Ritts said.
At the time of his interview with Metroline, Ritts’ new book Herb Ritts Work was getting ready to hit latest book featured classic favorites such as Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Milton Berle. Other faces included Madonna, Pee Wee Herman, Matthew McConaughey, The Dali Lama, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and Dennis Rodman.