Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ron Galella And The Art Of Paparazzi

Ron Galella with fellow Paparazzo Alan Light (extreme left) and admirers in 1988
(Photo by Alan Light, used with permission)

When I was a poor destitute college student, pursuing my undergraduate advertising course during the early 2000s, sometimes I used to visit this uptown book store every now and then. Though I never bought anything there, I would stroll along the aisles and read whatever would catch my fancy.  During one of those trips to the store, I came across an american magazine devoted to celebrity gossip. It was filled with paparazzi photos of Hollywood actors and as I was flipping pages I came across pictures of Actress Melanie Griffith and another man who supposedly was Gabriel Byrne. The title read "Wait till Antonio sees these pictures" or something in the same vein. I remember only two photos from that magazine, one with them on a beach and the other with both of them at a bistro or something sharing an what was a yogurt ice cream. As far as I knew Melanie Griffith was happily married to Antonio Banderas and I wondered whats wrong with this picture. I realized everyone has there own life and choices they make and secondly nobody has the right to intrude into somebody's privacy like that by taking pictures. It was unfair.Nobody has the right to take your pictures without your permission. Straight and simple.

Recently I happened to see "Smash His Camera" an autobiographical documentary on the infamous Ron Galella. He and his kind, with their obsession for celebrities more or less gave birth to the modern paparazzi culture. After seeing the documentary I wondered, can a celebrity obsessed, privacy intruding hustler of a lowly life form be a greatest photographic artist of the century and inspire a generation of celebrity obsessed consumers???" Unfortunately, the answer is a big yes. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that with his obsession for celebrities, Ron Galella and his kind single-handedly created the modern paparazzi culture. Ofcourse there were others before him and also after, but none came close to match the madness and tenacity of his almost insane pursuits.He is both damned and revered and that is only because of the work he produced over the decades.

Its pure bravado and audacity that won him both admirers and quite a few enemies. The two lawsuits involving Jackie Kennedy and the infamous beef with the now deceased Marlon Brando where Galella was punched and lost five of his teeth and got his jaw dislocated only made him more famous. He turned up again to photograph Brando with a football helmet, what would you call a person like that???. Crazy is an understatement. Looks like Galella's unorthodox approach transcended his work itself - it permeated his whole life. In the documentary he goes on to tell how he met his wife and its a testament to his alternative worldview. His work is a vital source of socio-cultural trends of American celebrity.

Being a Paparazzi is not an easy thing, especially in modern America. In his era, Galella may have had it easy or difficult than most, but he was always successful and thanks to his crazy tools of the trade. Today, his work still stands as the best and is featured regularly in publications across the world. Yes Paparazzi is a different art altogether, yes its looked down upon too, but never the less it has its good points, and for as long as it survives Ron Galella will be remembered.

With his passion and obsession for celebrities Ron Galella didn't just photograph celebrities, he has also served an important sociological function that was to define how the masses viewed celebrities in the modern era of global mass marketing. He brought them down from the skies and made us realize they are just people like you and me.



Post a Comment