HERB RITTS died nearly 10 years ago, at age 50. Since then the world that he dominated as a photographer — fashion, beauty, celebrity — has changed dramatically, leaving a stillness where his energetic ideas once existed. As the years go by, as images of a hyper-glamour become the norm, as visual memories seem almost a grab bag of tricks, you become more aware of what a giant the man was. He was certainly a link to George Hoyningen-Huene and Edward Weston; he also belongs in the tradition of Richard Avedon, Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Irving Penn. More simply, you cannot imagine the 1980s and ’90s in America without the photographs of Herb Ritts.
Early next month, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles will open the first major exhibition of his work since a show in 1996, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. That exhibition broke records with more than 253,000 visitors, despite criticism that Mr. Ritts’s work was “formulaic” and that the museum was pandering to a celebrity-obsessed public. Yet, Mr. Ritts captured a time that seems remarkably uninhibited.