Getty Museum invites Matthew Rolston to comment on the work of Herb Ritts

Click to listen to Matthew Rolston's commentary on Herb Ritts' 1990 Versace ad featuring Christy Turlington.

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“Herb Ritts: L.A. Style” opened last week at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, honoring the work of the influential L.A.-based fashion and celebrity photographer not just through his iconic images, but also through the insights of three vital figures in his life: Richard Gere, Cindy Crawford, and Matthew Rolston. The museum invited all three to share their unique perspectives on Ritts for the audio guide accompanying the exhibition, excerpts of which are also being featured on the museum’s website.

Gere, of course, was the first celebrity friend of Ritts’ who allowed himself to be photographed as just that: a friend and not the marquee-name actor. Ritts’ sexy portrait of Gere in faded jeans and a tank top, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, a classic car jacked up behind him, kicked off Ritts’ career as a celebrity photographer. Crawford, whom Ritts photographed at the height of her supermodelness, was a Ritts muse and frequent co-conspirator. And Rolston was a friend and key contemporary of Ritts’ at a seminal time in West Coast photography.

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Click to listen to Richard Gere talk about this 1977 portrait of him by Herb Ritts at the Getty's website.

Click to view a selection of images from "Herb Ritts: L.A. Style," including this 1993 photo of Cindy Crawford.

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By the late 1980s, the New York magazine publishing establishment was regarded as the pinnacle of entertainment photography for the simple reason that the major magazines were based there. When there was a story to shoot in L.A., a New York crew was dispatched; Los Angeles–based photographers were not recognized. And then along came Andy Warhol and his New York–based proto-celebrity and photography journal, Interview. Defying conventional wisdom, as was his wont, Warhol made it his business to discover a new generation of West Coast photography talent. It was Warhol and Interview that brought together Herb Ritts, Matthew Rolston, and Greg Gorman, all of whom were based in L.A., each with his own unique take on the magic and history of Hollywood entertainment portraiture.

Recognizing this cultural shift, a visionary Los Angeles gallerist by the name of David Fahey mounted an exhibition that challenged the perceived East Coast supremacy. The 1985 show “Working in L.A.,” at the G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, featured those same young photographers: Ritts, Rolston, and Gorman, all of whom are still represented by David Fahey and the Fahey/Klein Gallery. The rest, as you know, is history.

Invited to choose an image from “Herb Ritts: L.A. Style” on which to comment, Rolston selected the Versace ad below featuring Christy Turlington. The image, he tells Nina Diamond of the Getty, stands apart from the world of Hollywood glamour. “Using this enormous piece of silk as a prop…creates a halo,a kind of goddess-like aura around the figure,” Matthew notes. (You’ll find the full clip at http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/ritts/fashion.html.)

“Herb Ritts: L.A. Style” will be on view through August 26, before traveling to the Cincinnati Art Museum (October 6 to December 12) and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Florida (March 1 to June 2, 2013). For more info, visit http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/ritts/index.html.

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