Paparazzo Pop Shooter: Ron Galella
From having his jaw broken at the hands of Marlon Brando to being sued by Jackie Kennedy O'Nassis, paparazzo of the stars and subject of the new doct "Smash His Camera" Ron Galella wakes up every morning hoping to capture the humanity in celebrities. "Are [celebrities] as beautiful as we see them on the screen? What makes them so great? I like to capture their real emotions revealed on their faces rather than posed pictures."
"It's too bad that most of us are born with talent but we do not develop it," says Galella. "I was fortunate because being poor gave me drive to better myself, and that's what I did. I'm an opportunist and that's what made me successful. Most people die with their talent."
Galella, called "the godfather of the U.S paparazzi culture" by Vanity Fair, is considered one of the most controversial of his ilk. Galella's 50-year career shooting celebrities had its inauspicious beginnings during the Korean war when Galella served as a photographer with the U.S Air Force. He then quickly found out that combining street photography with the sensationalism of catching famous faces during real, unguarded moments was a winning combination, and he soon became becoming the king of the celebrity candid.
Although Galella's muse was always Jackie O', rock stars had a dynamism that separated them from Hollywood for him. "It's not just about their music. It's about their fashion. The sexy outfits that Madonna wore -- especially the bustier than Jean Paul Gaultiere designed -- the hairdos, the long hair that Mick Jagger had, his big lips. It was more interesting graphically than the usual movie star. The rock stars were different."
Shooting throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s at such legendary spots as New York's Studio 54 and Palladium, Galella became somewhat of a celebrity himself. "Mick Jagger always liked me," he says. "In fact, when Lisa Robinson interviewed him some time ago, she asked him, 'How do you get along with the press?' And Mick said, 'Well, when I'm in New York I have to watch out for Ron Galella.' I thought he was great."
The current stock of celebrity musicians compared to those of the Jagger-era leaves something to be desired in Galella's mind, save for one starlet. "I had greater interest in [these rock stars] because they were bigger: The Beatles, John Lennon, Mick Jagger. Today the one I'm really interested in is Taylor Swift. I think she's a beauty, not just young and beautiful, but talented too. I think she's gonna be an iconic star in the future ." But capturing a windblown shot of Miss Swift walking down the street with a smile on her face, as he did with countless ingenues in the past, is an impossibility in this modern era.
In the past, before paparazzi images and agencies weren't ubiquitous, and hundreds of photographers didn't yet clamour to shoot a single frame of Beyonce on a red carpet, Galella managed to get full access to truly candid moments.
"When I started shooting in the '60s, '70s, and '80s I had a greater opportunity to get shots because I had the freedom to move around. There were very few paparazzi. In New York there were only about three or four others as well as myself, and it was easy to capture stars. Nowadays the markets have expanded, starting with People magazine in 1975. They get in each others' ways. It's controlled with the bodyguards it's just terrible and I'm glad I don't shoot much nowadays.
"When I did it it was easy to get exclusives, you went to their hotel or their apartment and just followed them around. But now there's so many photographers doing it.... I don't know how they make a living, personally." Currently, Ron shoots select events during the year, leaving most of the red carpets to the paparazzi hoards.
Galella's wealth of photographs and negatives combined with 50+ years of experience and stories inspired Oscar-winning filmmaker Leon Gast to make "Smash His Camera," a documentary of the photog's life and career that was released in the U.S. on July 30. Accepted by the London Film Festival and currently in limited release, the film delves into issues of privacy and stardom, revealing that Galella was seen as both a beast and a vehicle allowing the world to see the beauty behind celebrity's public face.
In addition to being featured in "Smash His Camera," Galella has published nine books of his work, and has hosted a myriad of exhibitions around the world. He is currently working on a book called "Boxing With the Stars" and another featuring photographs specifically of rock stars. "I covered the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame [ceremony] every year in the past and the end of the awards they would have a jam session," he says of the types of images he is looking forward to including. "I got Mick Jagger with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan all performing. That was great. I got great shots."