Photo: John Lennon and Mick Jagger (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
There is only one Ron Galella, and he has made his influence known in photography—and around the world—as the Godfather of paparazzi everywhere. But Galella didn’t just photograph the stars. He made headlines himself. In June 1973, Marlon Brando punched Galella in the face, breaking his jaw. That didn’t stop Galella from his pursuits, no, not one bit.
At a time when photo magazines were still in vogue and the public got its celebrity fix from candid flicks taken at the most posh hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and special events, Galella’s photographs whet an appetite for the most glamorous and decadent of images. And Galella was dedicated, perhaps even maddeningly so, to the glories of his career. “I was a workaholic. I still am,” he observes. Now 84 years old, Galella remains sharp and focused, retaining all the charm and charisma of his youth. He loves to tell a story, to engage, entertain, and amuse.
But above all, he loves to share his photographs. “Ron Galella: 55 Years a Paparazzi” will be on view at Staley – Wise Gallery, New York, from September 25-November 28, 2015. The exhibition will feature a number of his classic images, such as Windblown Jackie: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, New York, 1971 as well as never-before-seen images such as a photograph of Jack Nicholson and Angelica Huston from the time when they were dating.
Galella observes, “All this work that I did, I pursue with passion. I wouldn’t give up. If I wasn’t invited, I would sneak in. I had a list of twenty-two techniques for professional photographers to get photos of celebrities. One of them was, you have to have your own car. A taxi will obey the law. An aggressive paparazzi like me with pass through red lights.”
Yet, Galella undersells. A photographer like him will always get the shot. The fact is: he was in a taxi when he captured Windblown Jackie. Galella remembers, “I saw her walking and hopped into a cab. We caught up to her at the corner and the driver blew his horn. Jackie turned. She didn’t recognize me. She whipped off her glasses. She asked me, ‘Are you pleased with yourself?’
“I told her, ‘Yes thank you.’ She was pissed. It is my greatest picture and my greatest seller. It’s all the paparazzi approach. She looks over one shoulder, no make up, wind blowing, no hair-do, soft light. It’s natural beauty,” Galella reminisced.
A year later, Jackie O. sued him. And then she sued him once more. And though she secured a restraining order that required Galella to keep 150 feet away, it was a losing battle. He broke the restraining order, without reserve. The result? The distance in the restraining order was reduced to 25 feet.
Likening himself to Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous, “Rear Window,” Galella admits to being a voyeur, thrillingly so. The spontaneous, unguarded reality that he captures in his photographs are as close to life as most of us will ever get when encountering the likes of Galella’s subjects.
“Try to be invisible,” Galella suggests, as one of his professional tips. “I had the advantage of working both ways. I would hide when I could and shoot them from a corner, or I would be in a taxi with a long lens. The other aspect is I want stars to see me so I shoot close up, maybe six feet away. I want their response to me. A lot of them say, ‘No pictures!’ and put their hands up. That makes a great picture. It works both ways.”
Not all the celebrities balked at a Galella photographs. Some could appreciate the immediacy of the moment, the sudden connection between photographer and subject, and acted accordingly. For many stars in public, they enjoy being seen. They do not have defenses, and they don’t care to overreact. They simply are natural. They respect Galella, and act accordingly. Like the photograph of Jerry and Ben Stiller, recently discovered in Galella’s archive of more than 7 million images.
Galella reveals, “I still find a lot of great shots that I overlooked. When you shoot events, you only print the hot celebrities of the moment. You’re under pressure to get the photos out. Going back to my archive now, I can look at pictures differently. Now I have an eye for what the galleries want. They want the more artistic pictures. The magazines wanted the gossip and the outrageous.”
Ron Galella will be at Staley – Wise Gallery, NY, on November 5 signing copies of his new book, Sex in Fashion.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.