Herb Ritts’s photography is the obverse of AIDS. Populated by impossibly beautiful young people with impossibly perfect bodies frolicking in the outdoors, they are the picture of perfect health—and as such the polar opposite of the wan, cadaverous figures then increasingly visible as AIDS slowly lurched into public view. There are plenty of gay people in this aestheticized world, but straights too, women as well as men, black as well as white, a polymorphous collectivity of erotic desire that effortlessly transcended the then ubiquitous markers of identity mobilized to segregate the presumptively uninfected from those of us marked to die. Here the body, the newly declared enemy of an ever-larger segment of the gay community, reigns supreme, its possibilities and pleasures scopically available in an obverse relation to physical risk.
Herb Ritts’s career as a photographer neatly maps over the ravages of AIDS. In this talk, Jonathan Katz resituates Ritts’s work in the social and cultural context of the worst years of the plague, and argues that his commercial and critical import stem in large part from the fact that he was an openly gay photographer who nonetheless proffered a utopian dream of a time before the prospect of Eros was inevitably fused with the specter of Thanatos.
This exhibition runs April 3 through August 26, 2012
J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90049-1687
Phone: +1 (310) 440-7330
E-mail: (for general Museum inquiries)firstname.lastname@example.org
By Jim McKinniss