in the end, it would make a great photograph
December 26, 2002 8:29 PM   Subscribe

a bleak moment for beauty: herb ritts has died. nytimes link.
posted by patricking (30 comments total)
 
His publicist announced the death was attributed to "complications arising from pneumonia". Can that be true? What 50 year old millionaire dies of that?
posted by jonson at 8:47 PM on December 26, 2002


i think it was aids-related, jonson. It's sad. He did some great work.
posted by amberglow at 8:53 PM on December 26, 2002


Umm, Jim Henson did too, Jonson. No?
posted by swerdloff at 9:42 PM on December 26, 2002


hmmm... yeah. .... is "complications arising from pneumonia" code for AIDS related illness or not? we were just debating that very question...... if so, it would be a shame to still be hiding the true nature of the cause of his death
posted by specialk420 at 10:00 PM on December 26, 2002


it would be a shame to still be hiding the true nature of the cause of his death

He died of pneumonia complications, AIDS-related or not. People who do not have AIDS die of pneumonia (less frequently in people in Ritts' age group, to be sure, but it does happen). At the risk of pointing out the obvious: AIDS doesn't kill you, AIDS just makes it easier for other things to kill you, so not mentioning whether this was AIDS-related or not isn't really hiding much. And how would blaring his viral status all over the place make any difference whatsoever? His family for whatever reason doesn't feel the need to tell everyone the gory details at this exact second, I'm sure it'll come out soon enough.

I was shocked to see this, he was one of the true greats. All told, this has been a bad week for the arts.
posted by biscotti at 10:16 PM on December 26, 2002


Yeah, that was sort of my question above, but I couldn't think of a polite way to put it. I mean, if indeed Ritt's death was AIDS related, and his wishes were not to tell people, doesn't that just perpetuate the myth that dying of AIDS related opportunistic diseases is something to be ashamed of? At least, that was certainly the case for thousands of people in the early & mid 80's. I would have thought we'd be beyond that.

I mean, while you one can claim (as biscotti does) that there's nothing being hidden, if Ritts had been shot, mauled by dogs or had a piano had fallen on him, that news certainly wouldn't have been obscured with code.
posted by jonson at 10:48 PM on December 26, 2002


People who do not have AIDS die of pneumonia (less frequently in people in Ritts' age group, to be sure, but it does happen).

Poster boy for this: Jim Henson.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:58 PM on December 26, 2002


Oh no who will photograph our beautiful people? Sorry, but supporting our ridiculous celebrity system ranks down there with garbage man or local minister in my opinion.

Richard Gere? Madonna? I don't think its fair to use the word beauty when dealing with people whose plastic surgery bills equal all the money I've made in my lifetime.
posted by skallas at 10:58 PM on December 26, 2002


/me chastises himself for not looking at the postings more carefully. Bad ROU, BAD! No Xeny Snacks for me.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:01 PM on December 26, 2002


doesn't that just perpetuate the myth that dying of AIDS related opportunistic diseases is something to be ashamed of?

That's certainly one take on it, and I don't disagree. However, we don't often hear all the details of many people's deaths, and we seem to only get our knickers in a twist when we suspect it's AIDS-related (I didn't see any speculation about whether Joe Strummer's heart attack was cigarette-related, for example). I'm inclined to think that some benefit of the doubt should be on offer for at least a few days before we start assuming that there's any hiding of "shameful" facts going on. I suspect that some sort of confirmation or denial of this being AIDS-related will come out soon enough, I see no reason to start leaping to conclusions about things being covered up simply because we don't know all the details before the body's even cold.
posted by biscotti at 11:04 PM on December 26, 2002


I was shocked to see this, he was one of the true greats. All told, this has been a bad week for the arts.

It's been a bad year. Jam Master Jay, Mary Hansen, Joe Strummer... I have the feeling I'm missing one or more..
posted by slipperywhenwet at 11:38 PM on December 26, 2002


I'm very old-fashioned. I think death is a big enough thing for it not to be necessary or desirable to divulge what someone's died of. At least for a month or two. If we were more civilized and less morbid (i.e. didn't read moral judgements from causes of death) it wouldn't matter. But we're not. So, in fact, not divulging the cause of death inevitably leads a lot of people to assume it's something which is behaviour-related.

So I guess, paradoxically and given the miserable circumstances of celebrity culture and its attendant shadenfreunde, it's better to just be honest. Until the unspoken hatred and rancour towards gays or alcoholics or drug addicts or promiscuous women (hopefully) subsides.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:23 AM on December 27, 2002


I think death is a big enough thing for it not to be necessary or desirable to divulge what someone's died of.

Not sure I understand the reasoning there, Miguel. I go just the opposite way: it's a big enough thing not to obscure such a key aspect of it as cause for...what reason? Squeamishness?
posted by rushmc at 12:36 AM on December 27, 2002


This is very sad. Far from simply perpetuating celebrity beauty, Ritts really developed a new and very bold and exciting style in portraiture which will, I think, be considered groundbreaking for years to come.

As to the nature of the illness which snuffed his candle far too soon, well, I simply long for the day when out and proud gay men who die from illnesses which aren't always fatal are no longer immediately presumed to have had HIV/AIDS.
posted by Dreama at 5:25 AM on December 27, 2002


I was expecting some photos in the NY Times link, but all I saw was the before/after shots on a hair club for men banner ad. Did Herb Ritts take those?
posted by Frank Grimes at 5:37 AM on December 27, 2002


Herb Ritts: The Early Work
posted by luser at 6:31 AM on December 27, 2002


it's a big enough thing not to obscure such a key aspect of it as cause for...what reason? Squeamishness?

No, I don't think miguel is talking about sqeamishness here. It has more to do with the extremely personal nature of the event--it happens to the person doing the dying and affects those who have intimate (meaning a close personal relationship, not just a sexual one) contact with the one dying. While a celebrity does potentially affect millions, I would say that only a very small handful of people are really affected by their death.

There is also has a need-to-know aspect: what does it matter what somebody dies from? To the population at large it's simply foddder for the rumor mill or a chance to offer relatively empty condolences and empathy.
posted by ashbury at 6:42 AM on December 27, 2002


I am sure that Ritts contributed something valuable to the world of photography, and I am certainly not of that world; and notwithstanding the hashing of public diagnostic revelations, death should be approached respectfully. But as a regular gay (except for Yancy Butler and perhaps Cate Blanchett) male consumer of mass culture, I would have to say that from the time I could immediately identify a Ritts photograph at first sight, I found his work to be incredibly boring. It was the repackaging of sex as Diet Coke. As a matter of fact, when I first heard of Viagra, I remember thinking right away that the nation finally had some small antidote to the mass extermination of the sexual imagination due to Herb Ritts photographs and music videos. Even hardcore amateur porn comes across as more sensual and less objectifying, not to mention more honest, given its lack of fascination with celebrity as perfection. Perhaps this was the hidden message behind his work, despite its commerciality. Still, if I never see another sepia-toned artificial breast caked with sand bulging out of a CK-designed tubetop, I'll die a happier man.
posted by troybob at 7:46 AM on December 27, 2002


On final glance at my previous post, I realize that it may seem cruel given that this guy just died. What I meant to say was "CK-designed black tubetop". Always black.
posted by troybob at 7:49 AM on December 27, 2002


FYI, Jim Henson died of Group A streptococcus pneumonia. This more virulent strain, some forms of which are called the "flesh-eating bacteria" (necrotizing fasciitis (NF)) and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS), bacteremia, pneumonia.

Approximately 8,800 annual cases of invasive disease (3.2/100,000 population) occurred in 2000; approximately 4% were STSS and 6% were NF. Over 10 million noninvasive GAS infections (primarily throat and skin infections) occur annually.
posted by kablam at 7:51 AM on December 27, 2002


Although I'm not so impressed with his fashion shots of supermodels, I do think he shot some really beautiful pictures over the course of his career (you can check some out, scroll down the names here). I especially like the ones of Dizzy Gillespie and Glenn Close.
posted by witchstone at 8:46 AM on December 27, 2002


I remember the series that Herb Ritts did for Vanity Fair on the Boy Scouts.

It would have been easy for him to use the forum to tear apart the Scouting program (wacky juxtapositions, taking only pictures of the fat ugly scouts), but his take on the scouts was honest and fair and not at all mocking.

His restraint in not politicizing his photos is what I remember most about that series.
posted by ColdChef at 9:02 AM on December 27, 2002


I can't find it online, but didn't he also do that infamous Vanity Fair cover of Tom Cruise leaping through the flames?
posted by ColdChef at 9:13 AM on December 27, 2002


Clearly, Ritts was not the most imaginative fashion or portrait photographer ever (wacky/brash/tacky David LaChapelle comes to mind as a much more interesting example in this branch of photography). But Ritts was hardly a hack: the man had clearly done his homework, and knew very well classical sculpture and had obviously studied the great photographers from the Thirties and Forties (yes, Riefenstahl too)

You can like Mapplethorpe better, and of course Ritts was no match -- not nearly -- for people like Newman or -- gasp -- Avedon. But who is nowadays? Certainly not Vanity Fair's Leibovitz, nor Gorman. You guys like Seliger better than Ritts? I hope not.

I saw Ritt's huge retrospective at the Fine Arts in Boston in 96, and really, that was defintely not "celebrity porn" hackwork: Ritts was a hell of a good photographer and I'm sorry that we won't see

also, what's the obsession with the pneumonia/AIDS stuff? Why do you guys care? Are you also interested in _how_ he got AIDS in the first place? Like, all the Kamasutra-ish details? Are we entitled to know that shit because Ritts was a public personality? Is everybody supposed to divulge his/her illness' details like Harold Brodkey chose to do? Why?
posted by matteo at 10:30 AM on December 27, 2002


He also did quite amazing pictures for Prince, like this one, or this one, and the best one, this one.

(Thanks to M for the links.)

RIP.
Sigh.
posted by Sijeka at 11:03 AM on December 27, 2002


You guys like Seliger better than Ritts? I hope not.

Well, ya gotta admit that's a great shot of Hetfield...
posted by jonmc at 11:21 AM on December 27, 2002


Seliger's always good for a laugh.
posted by ColdChef at 11:43 AM on December 27, 2002


Yipes! I went to her niece's bat mitzvah.
posted by y2karl at 3:51 PM on December 27, 2002


I'm not sure what a NYT free registration screen has to do with beauty, or how it caused someones death, but then again, I never got string-theory either.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:53 AM on December 28, 2002


an update on Ritt's death
posted by amberglow at 10:46 AM on January 4, 2003


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