Picturing Rock and Roll – Herb Ritts at the Fenimore Art Museum

Madonna in all her natural beauty

The final week of summer vacation has arrived and with it comes a mad dash to enjoy activities and events that seemed easily achievable way back in June.
One thing I’ve had on my radar was a photography exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum, a place I’ve never before visited. Knowing that the opportunity to see this collection of Herb Ritts’ photos was limited (the show closes 9/2) I got in my car yesterday and made the 90 minute drive to Cooperstown and boy, am I glad I did.

To begin, I don’t know much about photography or the folks who have elevated it to a fine art, but I was aware of Herb Ritts’ name and, as I learned yesterday, some of his work. I’m sure you are too. Before his death in 2002 at the age of 52, he photographed some of the most iconic celebrities and personalities of contemporary culture. Ritts also, upon urging from Madonna, became a highly sought after director of music videos eventually working with, among others, Michael and Janet Jackson, Chris Isaaks, Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey.

Prince, King of gold

The exhibit ($24 admission) is downstairs in a newer wing of the museum and in addition to photos, includes some cool memorabilia. I fangirled over an impeccable black suit, complete with top hat, worn by Madonna and a dress that belonged to Joan Baez, but I could see guitar players being even more impressed by the beautiful instruments on display.

Courtney Love, Framed Angel

While some of the images were familiar, with many having been originally published as covers for Rolling Stone magazine, the captions and original contact sheets added an entirely new layer of context. An accompanying video in which a number of his subjects, colleagues and his brother appeared, helped to provide details about Ritts’ motivation and process and caused my heart to break a little as I considered how many more photos he might have produced had his life not been cut short, like so many other talented individuals, by AIDS.

Sting, the first crush to inspire lust – at least for me.

After taking in the show and checking out a few other museum galleries, I thoroughly enjoyed a picnic lunch on the terrace overlooking beautiful Otsego Lake. I was unable to resist the call of the tree lined path to the lake and eventually found myself on the shore testing the water temperature and wishing for an opportunity to swim or paddle board. For that, I guess, there’s always next summer.

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