AT FENIMORE MUSEUM:
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Even before the Herb Ritts exhibit arrived from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to The Fenimore Museum, the institutions shared a commonality.
“Ahmet Ertegun, who co-founded the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, was Gene Thaw’s roommate in college,” said Greg Harris, president.
The Herb Ritts photography exhibit, on loan from the Rock & Roll Hall through Labor Day, is on display across from the Thaw collection.
Harris was on hand for this year’s rock-themed Fenimore Museum Gala on Friday, July 12, where he gave a keynote speech about the relationships between music and art. “He went back in time and touched on a lot of things,” said Todd Kenyon, director of marketing.
The gala also included a live auction with auctioneer Don Raddatz, with grass-fed beef items from the Green Cow, Templeton Hall rentals and Bump Tavern dinner parties.
Silent auction items included several paintings by Robert Schneider, now Stamford mayor, and Susan Jones Kenyon, a Glimmerglass Festival 2020 VIP Package, and five items donated from the Thaws’ private collection.
The “Paddle Auction” was also revived, where bidders, prompted by Paul D’Ambrosio – in Paul McCartney’s Sgt. Pepper costume! — raised paddles to show how much they were willing to donate to The Fenimore’s educational program scholarships, which helps students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to visit the museum.
In all, both auctions raised $50,000. “Last year, he paddle auction raised $9,000,” said Kenyon. “This year, it was $15,000.”
And then, of course, there was rock & rolling to be done.
“There was a lot of spirited dancing,” said Kenyon. “We had a photo booth where people could pose with guitars, and when the final photo came out, it looked like the cover of a magazine.”
The next afternoon, Harris moderated a panel, “Herb Ritts and the Image of Rock Music,” featuring Laurie Kratochvil, former Rolling Stone director of photography; John Covach, director of University of Rochester’s Institute for Popular Music, and Rory Ritts, Herb Ritts’ younger brother.
“Herb brought magic to a shoot,” said Kratochvil. “He could equalize everybody. I was accused of having a five-card Rolodex, but Herb really was my favorite. He was so easy to work with.”
Ritts shot 45 Rolling Stone covers, and, according to Kratochvil, and only “Nothing Compares 2 U” singer Sinead O’Connor ever gave him a problem. “She was very shy and not all that engaging,” she said. “But he got the close-up of her face and bleached it out, and that was the cover.”
He also photographed Mick Jagger wearing one of his velvet jumpsuits with his name spelled out in studs. “Herb asked if he had any costumes and Mick had a whole warehouse,” she said. “Of course, with Jagger, it’s all about the mouth, but let’s just say you couldn’t shoot below the waist and still run it on a cover!”
“Photography played a key role in crafting an image of a performer,” said Covach. “Herb Ritts was participating in a much larger tradition.”
And Ritts made things personal, sharing his memories of his brother. “He took me along with him when he shot Mike Tyson,” he said. “And he tells me, ‘I don’t know anything about sports, you go talk to Mike!’”
“It takes someone with a real gift to get people in an unguarded moment,” said Covach.
“A photographer has to decide if they’re taking a photograph or making a photograph,” said Kratochvil. “Herb could do both.”