On stage, in a dark theatre, behind large black and white photographs, sits an elderly man staring at a computer situated by his side. His name is Ron Galella and he is the self-proclaimed most controversial American celebrity photographer.
His new exhibition, Viva L’Italia, focuses on a half-century’s worth of Galella’s photographs of Italian and Italian-American celebrities. From Martin Scorsese to Marisa Tomei, the gallery is full of familiar names and faces.
Galella’s interest in photography began when he enlisted in the air force during the Korean War. After the war, he attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. He graduated in 1958 with a degree in photojournalism. Galella’s website summarizes his career as: being “punched in the jaw by Marlon Brando in Chinatown, beaten up by Richard Burton’s body guards in Mexico, hosed down by friends of Brigitte Bardot in Saint Tropez, [having] his tires slashed by Elvis Presley’s guards in Queens and [being] sued twice by Jacqueline Onassis.”
Comfortably sitting in his seat and somewhat blissfully unaware of the growing crowd and flashing cameras, Galella looks out and begins his lecture, talking like a grandfather to his grandchildren. “I followed [Jackie Onassis] to a Chinese restaurant,” he says casually about his favourite subject before reminiscing about the many times he had hidden behind trees, walls and even chairs to capture a glimpse of her with his Nikon. “Celebrity journalism, to me, was my passion. I loved it.” he said. “I like pictures of people doing things, not posing.”
Galella said he thinks the paparazzi’s job is to provoke celebrities. However, he said his aim was never to aggravate the people he photographed.
Galella admits that eventually each celebrity, including Richard Burton, Michael Jackson, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, John Travolta and of course, Jacqueline Onassis, all tried to make him stop photographing them, whether through lawsuits or violence. He recounts even irritating Cary Grant to the point where he yelled out “didn’t somebody kill you yet?”
Yet, Galella never gave up his craft, and doesn’t plan to either. “I’m 78 and I don’t plan to retire. Anybody who loves their work should never retire,” Galella concluded. Though he said he has never considered photographing modern day celebrities as “they are too hard to reach.”
He has released several books of his photography including Jacqueline, Warhol by Galella: That’s Great! and Disco Years. Several more are in the works, including Boxing with the Stars, a photographic journey of boxing stars in and out of the ring. Though he confesses to having evolved to digital cameras, Galella said he still continues to print his works in a dark room&- on black and white, of course, as he says they are more valuable and artistic.
The Viva L’Italia photographic exhibition is at the Centaur Theatre until Dec. 6. Monday to Friday 9 to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 12 to 5 p.m.