In 2002, Vogue lost of one of its most significant contributors when the photographer Herb Ritts passed away, but his legacy has lived on in photography and film, both of which will be showcased in the Edwynn Houk Gallery’s first Herb Ritts show, which opens today, after being feted last night.

Ritts was born and raised in California, and it was the Western landscape and light of the Mojave Desert that provided the inspiration for his unique vision; two of the best-known images that will be shown, Versace Dress (Back View), El Mirage, 1990, and Versace-Veiled Dress, El Mirage, 1990, make use of both. These images are, at root, “fashion images,” but Ritts was able to create pictures that are essentially geometric abstractions, in some ways recalling the work of the Russian Constructivists Aleksandr Rodchenko and Kazimir Malevich.

“What we see is an elegant and timeless fashion design and a beautiful model, but what is not seen is Herb’s patience and commitment to the image and allowing the moment to happen and not be forced,” says Mark McKenna, who was Ritts’s former assistant and studio manager, and is now executive director of the Herb Ritts Foundation. “Waiting for the wind to lift the fabric to the exact spot in his mind’s eye, and giving it the time to be captured by that one frame while everyone else on the set was frantically rushing to pack things up and move off the dry lake bed before the looming storm would arrive minutes later. Herb knew how to capture the magic of the moment.”

“Herb was the easiest and nicest photographer,” says Charles Churchward, a former Vogue and Vanity Fair design director and a close friend of Ritts’s. “He knew how to get his subjects to perform for his camera, and in that way, he could create these most amazing images.”

Among those amazing images is one of the photographer’s most famous nudes, Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989. While both male and female nudes were an important part of Ritts’s body of work, it was this now-iconic photograph of a group of women, seductively seated, that visually defined the era of the nineties supermodel.

“Herb Ritts,” April 28–June 25, 2011, at the Edwynn Houk Gallery, 745 Fifth Avenue, New York;

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