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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

Ron Galella 55 Years A Paparazzi

Image above: ©Ron Galella, Gianni Agnelli, Oscar de le Renta, Marella Agnelli, and Annette Reed at Malcolm Forbes’ 70th Birthday Party, Tangier, Morocco, 1989 / Courtesy of Staley Wise Gallery 

 

He knows where the back doors and kitchens are in every major hotel in New York. There’s a reason why his photographs look so effortless and spontaneous – his planning and preparation are impeccable. He doesn’t mind travelling to Paris to shoot Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, visiting The Ambassador hotel in advance to research the layout because he knows Elizabeth and Richard are going to be there the next day attending the premiere. Passing unnoticed through the front doors, he didn’t think he would not be able to get back inside later after following Italian actress Virna Lisi to her car. “All of the other photographers outside were pretty angry, saying: how the hell did you manage to get in there? But because I knew the layout, I managed to get back in, this time through the kitchen”, recalls Ron Galella, 55 years a paparazzi.

Galella_JackieOnassisValentinoZImages above: ©Ron Galella, left: Valentino and Jackie Onassis, Valentino Fashion Show to Benefit the Special Olympics, Pierre Hotel, New York, 1976 right: Kate Moss, “Richard Avedon: An Autobiography”, Dinner Party, New York Public Library, 1993 / Courtesy of Staley Wise Gallery  

 

Ron Galella started his career photographing movie stars at film premieres and selling the photographs to entertainment outlets. His ability to portray celebrities as living and breathing human beings led him to working for the most prestigious publications including Time, Vogue, Vanity Fair, People, and Rolling Stone. His prints have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in both New York and San Francisco, the Tate Modern in London, and the Helmut Newton Foundation Museum of Photography in Berlin.

Galella_JackieOnassisValentinoZzImages above: ©Ron Galella, left: Elizabeth Taylor, Marie-Helene, and Guy de Rothschild, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 1968  right: Sean Penn and Madonna, Lincoln Center, New York, 1986 / Courtesy of Staley Wise Gallery 

 

His exclusive body of work captures almost every Hollywood star in the second half of the 20th century – from John Lennon and Frank Sinatra to Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent. And, of course, there’s Jackie Kennedy, the First Lady and style icon he photographed from 1968 through 1981, his artistic obsession. That obsession caused complicated relationship between Ron and Jackie and resulted in a restraining order keeping him 25 feet away. Although Galella paid little attention to it, he began carrying a measuring tape to ensure he wasn’t breaking the law. He gave up his pursuit in the 1980s, after Jackie took him to court a second time. “She was, and still is, the most famous, most photographed woman in the world. I believe only Elvis could meet or exceed her level of fame”, says Galella in his introduction to the book “Jackie: My Obsession”.

Galella_JackieOnassisValentinoZzzImages above: ©Ron Galella, left: Sophia Loren at the premiere of "Doctor Zhivago," Americana Hotel, New York, December 22, 1965 right: Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, Mabel Mercer Concert, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, 1978 / Courtesy of Staley Wise Gallery  

 

When Marlon Brando punched Galella in the face, broke his jaw and knocked out five of his teeth, he started wearing a helmet every time he chased him. Galella was beaten by Sean Penn as well as Richard Burton’s and Elvis Presley’s security guards. Despite constant battles with celebrities and socialites, Galella’s work represents the visual history of the contemporary entertainment industry and cultural evolution throughout the years. “Ironically, the very photographs that Mrs. Onassis resisted were the ones that define her as an icon”, observes Tom Ford.

Galella_JackieOnassisValentinoZzzzImages above: ©Ron Galella, left: The Duchess of Windsor, National Ballet of Canada Opening Party, Waldorf Towers, New York, 1974 right: Bianca Jagger and Halston, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala, New York, 1976 / Courtesy of Staley Wise Gallery

 

While today’s paparazzi photography is more prosaic, Ron Galella does consider himself an artist. He studied painting, composition and drawing way before he touched a camera. All of that is widely reflected in his work which is shown all over the world and credited for its artistic and sociohistorical value. Being the most famous and controversial celebrity photographer, Galella challenges our imagination by observing this world with curiosity – he doesn’t only take pictures, he makes them. Andy Warhol has cited Galella as his favorite photographer: “ My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous. It’s being in the right place at the wrong time. That’s why my favorite photographer is Ron Galella”.  The exhibition runs through November 28 at Staley-Wise Gallery.

Text by Kelly Korzun

Huger Foote at Dashwood Books

Valérie Belin at Edwynn Houk Gallery