Famed veteran paparazzo Ron Galella has been shooting Madonna for more than 20 years, capturing her rise from pop starlet to superstar in the ’80s and just about every one of her many reinventions ever since. To celebrate Madge’s 53rd birthday today (Aug. 16), we’re taking a look back at her life in the limelight by having Galella himself take us on a guided tour. Check out some of his special snaps of the Material Girl and her famous friends — just a taste of the hundreds he’s shot of her.
Madge & Michael
Madonna and Michael Jackson at the afterparty at Spago’s for the 63rd Annual Academy Awards, 1991
Ron Galella: “There was always an annual [Oscar] party at Spago’s. That was shot when they left the party. She had a beautiful white fur piece and Michael Jackson was with her. That was a great shot. In fact, that’s in my book. Their outfits make the picture.”
Madonna at New York’s Palladium, June 11, 1985
Ron Galella: “She was always great [and] what made her great, really, was she always reinvented her fashion. She’s always had very good style, always moving around, great dancer. So she was good for pictures. She had sexy outfits, that was the greatest thing about her.”
Madonna & Sean At Dinner
Sean Penn and Madonna at Manhattan’s Columbus Cafe, circa 1986
Ron Galella: “Madonna and Sean Penn walked all the way from the grocery store after a performance. That’s a long walk from 65th to 75th, ten blocks up Columbus Avenue. They went to have dinner at Columbus Café and the proprietor was very anti-paparazzi. He would always chase us away. Fortunately they took a table right near the window on 75th street. So I shot through the window, then I ran because I knew that guy was going to come running after us. That’s how I got that picture, and it’s one of my favorites.”
Out For A Jog
Madonna jogging in NYC, 1992.
Ron Galella: “She ran with her bodyguard all the way to Central Park, around, and then came back with her bodyguard. Once they left to run they took a while to come back to the apartment so they could get a work out. You have to run with her but I couldnt keep up with her all the time. What I did was go a few blocks then wait for her to come back to the apartment.”
AMA’s Red Carpet
Madonna at the 12th Annual American Music Awards, January 28, 1985.
Ron Galella: “I think it’s the fashion that makes the pictures interesting. My technique of shooting was shoot fast and get the off-guard pictures; that really makes for great pictures — spontaneous pictures rather than posed pictures. I hardly ever call [stars’] names. I’d rather them be themselves. A lot of photographers yell [the celebrities’] names, especially on red carpet. I don’t even do that there. I just wait, I like them looking at other people, or at each other, or relating to one another.”
Maddy & Beatty
Warren Beatty and Madonna in New York, 1990
Ron Galella: “That’s when they did ‘Dick Tracy’ together. They came back from a nightclub and I sneaked in. I got in but I got thrown out. I was discovered. I didn’t get too much on them. When they went to her apartment on West 65th, I got a good shot — that’s the shot that you see of Warren Beatty and her coming back from the [club].”
Virgin Tour Afterparty
Madonna’s post-concert party June 6, 1985.
Ron Galella: “She’s always been happy in front of the camera. She was always easygoing. But it was difficult. Getting her was a challenge because there was always a lot of photographers there trying to get her. She pulled things. She’d come out of the garage with a car so she didn’t have to walk out of the apartment.”
Madonna & MJ In L.A.
Madonna and Michael Jackson at The Ivy in Los Angeles, 1991
Ron Galella: “It was rare. [Michael and Madonna] didnt go out often together. In this one they are coming out of the Ivy restaurant. It was always difficult [with Jackson] because there were so many photographers and security holding us back behind ropes most of the time. You didn’t always have the freedom that you wanted. He was a big star. Once, when he was at the Taj Mahal for Donald Trump’s opening, there were so many people around him in the crowd that he ducked down low and moved low. Donald said, “Do you always do this?” Michael said, “In Tokyo, it’s worse.”
Madonna Does Live Aid
Madonna performing at Live Aid, July 13, 1985.
Ron Galella: “I photograph everything — I photograph them on stage and off stage. I prefer off stage ’cause naturally it’s more real, they’re more themselves. When they’re performing, I don’t know, the microphone gets in the way. I like them off stage, but I shoot everything.”
Madonna at the Versace fashion show during New York Fashion Week, 1999.
Ron Galella: “It’s difficult moving around [during fashion week] because everyone is seated and it’s a crazy thing. A few years back, some of the photographers stepped on a lot of the celebrities’ feet while squeezing through and taking pictures. So they prohibited a lot of photographers from shooting at all inside [the tents]. We just got arrivals. I don’t cover it any more. It’s just a hassle. I only cover a few events. I cover the big events easy. I cover the Tony awards and the Fashion Gala at the Metropolitan Museum.”
Madonna and almost three-year-old daughter Lourdes Ciccone Leon, July 12, 1999.
Ron Galella: “She was more difficult with the child, but she was okay. I never had any problems with her. They smiled into my camera. They were always pretty cooperative.”
Madonna candid at the premiere of tour doc “Truth Or Dare,” May 6, 1991.
Ron Galella: “Actually, one of my photographers that shot this. His name is Albert Ortega. That was taken May 6, 1991 at the premiere of Truth or Dare at the Pacific Cinerama Dome. It was a benefit for AIDS.”
Madonna At The ’95 VMAs
Madonna at the 12th Annual Video Music Awards, 1995.
Ron Galella: Considering all of these rock stars [who were there], she looks especially good. She had all these sexy outfits. She has endured; today she’s still great. The only one thing I would say is it’s alright for adults looking at this, but children I don’t think is good to see all these sexy shots. I think its too provocative.
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.”