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Herb Ritts and the Body Beautiful Take Over the Getty

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The Herb Ritts: L.A. Style exhibition at the Getty Center offers a gloriously gorgeous reminder that an offhand Instagram snap of your cute new outfit does not a photographer make. The perfect antidote to the digital camera's ubiquitous ease, the exhibition at once reclaims the art of fashion photography, bears witness to the birth of the supermodel, celebrates print media and is a pleasing affirmation that both women and men can make excellent eye candy.

The exhibit is full of the body beautiful—muscular, sleek, and strong men and women in various states of action, contemplation and abandon. In the '80s and '90s, Ritts (along with Bruce Weber) turned the camera towards the male figure, positing him as a commercially useful sex object for print ads—to the delight of men and women alike. Memorable pictures were the product of the trust Ritts had with his models, as seen in his first snapshot of a fresh faced Richard Gere; Madonna's famous laughing profile with her head thrown back atop a sinewy neck; to the twisted yet elegant pose of Naomi Campbell; the come-hither narrowed eyes of beauties like Tatjana Patitz; and the striking photo of Djimon Hounsou wearing an octopus on his head like a king. Yet the exhibit, with all its titillating qualities, is very much about an art of photography that revels in the human form.

The scale of the pictures is well suited to the museum's angled photography galleries, each of which contains thematic groupings. These categories invariably intertwine, and the pictures speak to each other across the rooms. Larger, more iconic photographs anchor a series along a wall, while smaller prints draw out visual themes. Taken as a whole, we were struck by Ritts' stylistic references to old Hollywood glamour shots, film noir settings, and his use of LA's brilliant light and landscapes. A screening room of Ritts' MTV-crowned music videos for Janet Jackson and Chris Isaak is brimming with sexy-confident moving images not unlike the still pictures outside.

Ritts' photos reflect the world's long fascination with celebrities, and the adjacent exhibition, Portraits of Renown, shows us that the joy of ogling began with the dawn of photography—well before the age of the Internet. Here you'll find a rare daguerrotype of Edgar Allen Poe, a picture of President Lincoln, the timeless lace-veiled portrait of silent-screen siren Gloria Swanson, and a blurred snap of Josephine Baker near a Polaroid of Yves Saint Laurent and a baby photo of Anderson Cooper—all taken by photographic masters such as Nadar, Edward Steichen, Warhol and Diane Arbus.

Our favorite Herb Ritts pictures are the rarely seen, magazine-rejected images that curator Paul Martineau dug up from the photographer's archives, as well as Ritts' personal photography—such as figure studies with details so rich they appear to be Renaissance paintings. His oeuvre unfolds as a robust photographic language that pushed the limits of commercial photography at the time, while showcasing a beautiful tête à tête between models, the camera lens and the photographer's singular vision. It all makes for a voyeuristically playful exhibition that is certain to seduce, just as Ritts would have wanted.

Herb Ritts: L.A. Style is open through August 26, 2012.

· Herb Ritts at the Getty [Official Site]
· Herb Ritts Foundation [Official Site]
· Portraits of Renown at the Getty [Official Site]