From 1991-1996, I had the unique opportunity to work with one of the most talented still photographers of the 20th Century. When I met Herb Ritts, it was as a gaffer. Joseph Yacoe was one of my clients and a mentor. He got the call to do a Levi Loose Jeans ad in Morocco directed by Herb Ritts. I was asked to organize the lighting for the intense shooting schedule in eight different cities. During this campaign, Herb and I really hit it off. This friendship quickly turned into helping him light all of his still work.
Not only was Herb a great artist, he was also an amazing human being. I learned so much from him in terms of how he talked to the talent and how his demeanor quickly put them at ease. He was so good at relating to others.
When I came on board as Herb’s regular lighting director on still shoots, I quickly understood what made him different. Herb was into hot lights. This terminology is big in the still world. It means lights that do not flash and create heat. Herb hated strobes. He loved looking through the viewfinder and seeing the light. He was able to orient a model’s face perfectly by being able to see the light, instead of taking a shot, then looking at it. He wanted to stay liquid. “Herb Liquid” was what we called it in the moment.
Traveling all over the world with Herb was absolutely incredible. Some of my best jobs to date have been with him. He inspired me to light, to look at a woman’s face and see which is the best side to light. I was blown away with how he would position his light, his HARD LIGHT. It became my mission to know where and when to position the light and from which side was best. Soon Herb did not have to say anything. We became so in sync as artists that he would show up, look at what I had set up and head back to make-up and hair.
“Heading Inside the Arctic Circle”
One of the last times that Herb and I worked together was in Sweden. We were sent about 150 miles inside the Arctic Circle to shoot an Absolute Vodka campaign with Vogue and Versace. Our two models were Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. We had all become good friends over the years and were shooting at the famous Ice Hotel. It was an insane job in every way – the art, the sets, the conditions and the beauty.
Here are four shots from this amazing shoot in 1996. We only had four hours of twilight and no daylight. The sun never rose above the horizon. For the first shot, we had the luck of a snow storm that whipped up right at the perfect moment.
I encourage all of you to attend Herb’s expose, which is at the Getty in LA until September 2nd. This is the last week. The exhibition also offers a screening room featuring Herb’s videos and commercial work as a director, as well as a documentary that I was privileged to be part of (embedded below). Herb changed the way I looked at light; he shaped me as a cinematographer, as an artist. I will always miss him.