George Pitts, photo director of Vibe from 1993 to 2004, died March 4 after a long illness, according to the Society of Magazine Photographers. A former painter who took up writing and photography, Pitts had exhibited his fine-art photography in New York, Los Angeles and Montreal. During his tenure at Vibe, he worked with photographers such as Juergen Teller, Lyle Ashton Harris, Terry Richardson, Melodie McDaniel, Ellen von Unwerth, Larry Sultan, Peggy Sirota and Marc Baptiste, and earned the Lucie Award for Picture Editor of the Year in 2006. He is survived by his wife, Jan Pitts.
A 1973 graduate of Bennington College, Pitts studied painting at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Following graduation, he turned to writing. After working as a photo researcher and editor at Time Life, he joined the staff that conceived and launched Vibe in 1993, when hip-hop was gaining prominence. The magazine covered leading hip-hop artists and an array of other cultural and artistic stories. When Vibe folded in 2009, Pitts wrote in a remembrance, “Working at Vibe changed my own life for the better, and enabled editors including myself to engage in an international discourse with a wide, disparate range of readers: the core fan base of Hip-Hop generation readers, popular music lovers, style and culture mavens, hipsters of all stripes, photography connoisseurs, serious musicologists, black culture militants, and scholars of all kinds.”
Pitts left Vibe in 2004 to become director of photography at LIFE, and later consulted at Latina magazine. While at Vibe, he had begun working on his own photography, exploring the subjects he had previously explored in his painting: nudes and portraits. He contributed to collections on erotic photography published by Taschen and Running Muse. His work was included in group shows of portraits and erotica in several galleries, and published in magazines including Musee, The New York Times Magazine and Complex. As a writer and critic, Pitts reviewed books, painting and photography. He wrote essays for books by Dana Lixenberg, Hans Neleman and Marc Baptiste.
Pitts mentored and helped photographers throughout his career. He became director of photographic practices at Parsons the New School for Design, and served on the juries for numerous awards, including the PDN Photo Annual and the nominating committee for the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Awards.
* Update: Family and friends have announced a memorial service “celebrating the life and legacy of George Pitts on Sunday, April 2nd, 2017. The ceremony will begin at 2:00pm and will be held at the Alvin Johnson/J.M Kaplan Hall at 66 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10011.”
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