Extremely loud and incredibly close
Photographs by Ron Galella
Every discipline has its master and every master their own Mona Lisa. Ron Galella´s Mona Lisa is his picture of “Windblown Jackie“, the photograph taken in 1971 that set our own image of the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Time Magazine thus rated Galella´s picture among the 100 most influential pictures of the last century. It is not sensational, but rather a spontaneous portrait of a private Jackie radiating self-confidence, style and her characteristic reserved appeal in spite of her casual everyday clothing and her wind-ruffled hair.
The best pictures emerge from a moment: Galella discovered Jackie on the streets of New York, jumped into a taxi while asking the driver to sound the car´s horn – she turned around, a smile on her face. Had she seen Galella sitting in the car, the story might have unfolded differently: Jackie Kennedy Onassis sued the paparazzo twice who, in spite of a preliminary injunction, continued to stalk her as his favorite motif. His interest in her person went beyond the mere taking of pictures intended to be sold to the magazines – he later openly admitted to be obsessed with her.
In addition to his pictures, it is such myths, these stories behind Galella's photographs that contributed to his legendary reputation.Others, however, tried to defend themselves against Galella´s intrusive methods. Using a range of sophisticated tricks, he gained access to gala dinners, hotels and backstage areas in order to wait for stars and the right moment to release his camera´s shutter. His encounter with Marlon Brando became legendary, Galella lost five of his teeth and Brando had to visit a hospital the following day to have his infected hand treated. Richard Burton also defended himself vigorously and sent his bodyguard after Galella, who was later incarcerated in Cuernavaca prison in Mexico.
In addition to his pictures, it is such myths, these stories behind his photographs that contributed to Galella´s legendary reputation. His approach and the resulting pictures make him stand out from other paparazzi and coined him their king, the “Paparazzo Extraordinaire“, as Newsweek referred to him. Galella did not wait for the stars in hiding and secrecy while using a telephoto lens, but rather aimed for the personal encounter directly with them. He attended their parties and clubs, took pictures inside and outside Studio 54, followed the stars on the streets or knocked on their hotel room doors. He refused to use the other paparazzi´s methods still remaining popular today. Galella was looking for the confrontation while, at the same time, he was always prepared to bear the consequences. He continued to follow Marlon Brando, albeit wearing an American Football helmet.
Galella´s large-figured protagonists appear in spontaneous poses, often reacting to the camera.
The superior quality of Galella´s pictures resulted not only from their methodological but also from their aesthetic characterThese personal encounters resulted in sincere and eye-catching pictures taken from a small distance. They appear to be authentic and direct portraits rather than indiscreet observations of everyday behavior. Galella was aiming to catch the authentic expression, the human side of the stars whose popularity had made them appear superhuman to the public. It was this intention that made him Andy Warhol´s favorite photographer. The person was the center of his attention, not the public image the stars created of their presumably less spectacular private live. The picture of Jackie in the streets of New York was more interesting to Galella than a naked Jackie tanning on a beach, indicating the limits of his obsession as a stalker.
The superior quality of Galella´s pictures resulted not only from their methodological but also from their aesthetic character: strong chiaroscuro contrasts, interesting cuts and strong image compositions which, when taken in spontaneous moments, indicate a consciously observing and well-trained eye for photography. He processed his pictures himself in his own darkroom – making the quality of his prints even more impressive. It thus does not come as a surprise that Galella is still considered an artist among the paparazzi.
As the son of Italian immigrants, he grew up in New York´s Bronx and, following his service with the Air Force as a war photographer in Korea, he attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, graduating with a degree in photo journalism in 1958. It was obvious that, as a young photographer in the “City of Stars“, Galella would start to look for motifs at film premiers and film sets in the city. Soon after his graduation, he started to sell his pictures to all the popular magazines of the time: Harper’s Bazaar, Life, Vanity Fair or the Rolling Stone. Other paparazzi were taking their pictures in Rome and Cannes while he established the picture hunt in the USA, and consequently became a trademark himself during the 1960s when Time Magazine declared him the “Godfather of the U.S. paparazzi culture“. Galella, however, never thought of himself as typical paparazzo but always considered himself a photo journalist.
Beyond that, he remains a protagonist and a master of a photojournalistic style which has ceased to existToday, Ron Galella´s pictures can be found in museums such as New York´s MoMA oder London´s Tate Modern. Galleries and exhibition centers such as the Helmut Newton Foundation or C/O Berlin dedicate individual exhibitions to him. His works are mandatory to be included in any survey of paparazzi photography. But his work´s fame is not only owed to its photographic quality or Galella´s sense for the right moment, it is equally based on the historical relevance of his pictures. Through the years, many of Galella´s photographies turned into icons forming our image of the famous figures of his time: Mick Jagger angrily pursing his lips or Andy Warhol posing, while cautiously as well as profoundly playing with the camera´s eye. Such pictures are telling documents of a past era as well as of our own perspective onto these years.
Beyond that, Galella remains a protagonist and a master of a photojournalistic style which has ceased to exist. He left his imprint on paparazzi photography, thus elevating it into a form of art. Only few of his colleagues achieved to create their own styles – not to mention his present-day successors working in a time of highly modernized but, when seen from a quality perspective, all in all neglectable sensational photography. Galella´s pictures are still Galella: loud, close, striking. Strong.
Translation: Dr. Stefan Schustereder, www.hochschultraining.de