June 7, 2010

"Smash his camera!"

Posted: 03:16 PM ET

Paparazzo Ron Galella has been screamed at by some of the biggest stars in the business.  Marlon Brando punched him in the head, breaking his jaw and knocking out five teeth.  Jackie Kennedy Onassis sued him to keep him away from her and her children. 

In the 50 years he's been doing this job, there’s no denying he got some of the most intimate, iconic shots of stars that anyone had seen (he calls one of his photos of Onassis, “windblown Jackie,” his perfect picture).  But today, Galella says there’s no art in celebrity photographs, that the paparazzi are doing it for the money, not the craft.

Galella’s life and work are being examined in a new documentary called “Smash His Camera” – the title taken from the instruction Mrs. Kennedy supposedly yelled to her Secret Service detail after Galella followed her in New York’s Central Park.  “Smash His Camera” premieres on HBO Monday, June 07.

Jackie Kennedy and Ron Galella

Galella spoke to LKL Blog about his work, whether he had any regrets about how he got some of his photos and how celebrity and the paparazzi have changed since he first started.

LKL Blog:  In the 30-plus years you've been doing this, how has the game changed?

Ron Galella:  It's changed drastically for the worse.  When I did it, it was one-to-one.  It was great to do photography, the way I captured stars in their environment, in the space necessary.  I could create, move around, there was freedom to do all of this.  But today, with so many photographers in each other's way, it became difficult.  And then there's the bodyguards in the way, fans – there's too many obstacles to make great pictures. 

And also the motivation.  I had a motivation, a love, a passion for photography.  I had a degree in photojournalism and I did my own darkroom work, I composed the pictures – all of this made me in control.  I loved it.  But today, I think most of the photographers are uneducated, they pick up a camera and they do it for the money.  That's a very bad motivation in my eyes, anyway.

LKL Blog:  Do you think that the subject – celebrity – is different today as well?

Galella:  Yes, celebrities are more shallow.  They're not the great icons of yesterday, like Bette Davis or Liz Taylor.  Today we have – I call them the "featherweights" – Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and the others.  They are young and pretty, that's nice, that's what makes them interesting.  But they don't have the talent that the stars of yesteryear had. 

To me, that's not too good. 

LKL Blog:  You had a – what some might call contentious – relationship with some of the people you photographed.  What was the relationship like?  

Galella:  Because I became famous, or infamous, due to the trial in 1972 with Jackie [Onassis] and the [Marlon] Brando incident a year later.  So this was a great plus for me.  

I used a wide angle and got close to the starts, like six or eight feet away, and I could get their reactions.  I would start shooting and they would know me and I would get great quotes from them as well.  That made the relationship great.  They recognized me.  Candice Bergen said, "It's rare that you get stars on both sides of the camera."

LKL Blog:  After Marlon Brando clocked you and broke your jaw, you still followed him.  

Galella:   He shook my hand.  He was very nice to me.  He was very nice to me after.

LKL Blog:  So you made up.

Ron:  Yes, we did.

LKL Blog:  In the course of doing your job, is there anything that was off limits, something you decided not to shoot?  Or any regrets that you've had over something you did shoot?

Galella:  Not really.  I don't go on their property.  But I did knock on Doris Day's door.  And she answered and I started shooting and she asked if I was a professional and I said yes.  Then she slammed the door in my face.  But I don't know if that's public or private – the door.  I think it's public because the mailman goes to deliver, right?

LKL Blog:  Well, a lot of people would ask, not whether it's public or private, but is it okay?  Are you invading any privacy?

Galella:  No, no.  I don't feel bad.  I shoot pictures in good taste.   I don't like pictures that the paparazzi go after today, showing cellulite on their thighs, I don’t go for that.  I go for beauty. 

Galella's "Windblown Jackie" photograph

Like my "windblown Jackie" photo, there's no hairdo, no make up, but she's beautiful.  I'm after beauty, really.   I like to show beauty.  We all see stars on the big screen and TV in character.  But I want to show the stars when they're themselves. 

LKL Blog:  So what makes the perfect paparazzo photo?  What are you looking for?

Galella:  Well, the "windblown Jackie" is my ideal one because it has all the – what I call "paparazzi qualities."  Number one, it was exclusive, I was the only photographer.  Number two, it was spontaneous.  I hid in the back of a taxi and luckily, the driver blew the horn – I didn't tell him to do that.  And she didn't recognize me because I had the camera in front of my face.  But the moment I got out of the taxi, she saw me and she put on her glasses right away.  And I photographed a few more pictures of her and she turned around and said, 'Are you pleased with yourself?'  And I said, 'Yes, thank you.'  and I stopped.  Any star that doesn't want to be photographed, I stop.  But I get one photograph of them – I shoot fast, sneaking up on them to get the surprise picture. 

LKL Blog:  A lot of people saw you as the bad guy, the villain, for what you were doing.  So what is the biggest misconception about you – about what you do?

Galella:  I think the biggest misconception might be that I don't ask permission.  But I’m in public areas, so I don't feel guilty.  If they're in public, they're fair game.

The other thing is people think I got bad publicity because "Oh, poor Jackie" that I went after her, hounded her.  But that's not true.  I didn't hound this woman.  Actually, the facts are – I photographed her in my best year, 1970, 20 times.  That's not a lot.  Twenty times in one year and that's the best year I had.

Now look at the "featherweights," like Lindsay Lohan.  They are photographed day and night.  Bombarded by gangs of photographers.  But they love it, you see. 

LKL Blog:  Why do you think people connect to these photos?

Galella:  Well, we all are interested in celebrity.  We want to know why they are as beautiful as we see them on the screen.  What are they like?  We all want to know.  And that's what I try to reveal, what they're like in their real life.  And that's what I try to sell.  They are themselves when you capture them doing things.  And that's the key that I’m looking for: capture stars being themselves, being human beings.  We can say, 'Look, they're just like us.'

Will Rogers said it best, "It's great to be great, but it's greater to be human."  And I want to capture stars as human.

Filed under: Entertainment • LKL Web Exclusive

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Cajazz76:24:8   June 7th, 2010 3:22 pm ET

Punkbozo Galella

Ever think for a second how you would feel if someone followed your children around snapping photos of them? Your unpleasant experiences you entertained during your career make me SMILE for the birdie that should be dumping on your head.

JamesB   June 7th, 2010 3:43 pm ET

Thanks, Mr. Galella, for the beautiful photographs over the years. I do believe you are a cut above today's paparazzi for all the reasons you say, particularly that you are an educated photojournalist with your own dark room. Certainly none today would stop because the subject asked them to do so. Although you sometimes irritated your subjects, you were respectful. Thanks again for the memories; this photo of Jackie is one of my favorites.

Smith in Oregon   June 7th, 2010 4:19 pm ET

One of the civilians on the Humanitarian Peace flotilla carrying Food and Medicine for the Gaza people was filming as the Israeli Commando's open fired with their machine guns on the civilians. He reported and stated to the French officials they took away his camera and after brutally beating him, smashed him in the face with the butt of their rifles, go figure!

Maria Copelli   June 7th, 2010 5:15 pm ET

I totally have to agree with this photographer! The talent and 'stars' today coudnt hold a candle to those he mentioned! It is a lost art ! Wonderful to see this photographers work! Thank you Maria C.

Dodie   June 7th, 2010 5:43 pm ET

When an occupation is based solely on gaining financial wealth and recognition at the tragic cost of others… where does this all end. The emotional violation which manifests its ugly serpent head, slithering around is created at the cost of its victims, ie. (mortification, emotional distress, anger, embarrassment) There is no peace, no space, no privacy.

Paparazzi are like leaches, who ‘suck’ the life’s blood from their victims for recognition and financial gain. Whatever happened to humanitarian…. Whatever happened to emotional wealth, whatever happened to values, whatever happened to common decency toward our fellow man???

Christine Zacher   June 7th, 2010 10:15 pm ET

Wow, wasn't it T. Boone Pickens supporting wind energy not too long ago....I think his oil buddies got to him. For a minute I believed that the old oil man really cared about the future of this planet and his grandchildren. Now, you would think, listening to T. Boone, that BP is the victim. I do not care how much experience T. Boone has drilling wells and making the big bucks...This situation is an abstract...nobody knows what the outcome will be. But it is once again an example of how much big oil rules this world. What a shame that we are all pawns in your stupid game of keeping the status quo the status quo. How unfortunate..How selfish.

Peter Mead   June 8th, 2010 4:02 pm ET

In this type of discussion about paparazzi there is a point that is often lost sight of.

Many celebrities accept enormous amounts of money for what they do and in many cases the cost to worth ratio is way out of proportion. But they get that money because of the demand for exposure put upon them by fans. Their money comes out of the pockets of fans. Fans pay paparazzi.

You could say that fame was pushed upon Jackie Onassis but that's not really true. At some point in her life, wife of a campaigning senator, she worked hard to be known and continued to do so as first lady. Unfortunately, it is not you who decided to not be famous any more, because, celebrities, like paparazzi, work for the fans. And they alone will tell you when your fired.

Cindy   June 8th, 2010 5:34 pm ET

@Peter Mead,
So true. People always point their fingers at someone other than themselves. If we weren't such voyeurs, there would be no paparazzi. Also, celebrities like the paparazzi, but only when they are in charge. If they want the PR, they bring them on. The celebrities and we are more in control than the paparazzi.

leonard   June 8th, 2010 7:06 pm ET

Max Lawson

The color of your skin does not give you shelter from the offensive way you have expressed yourself. Don't even attempt to use that as camouflage to give you an excuse. It should be apparent that I have excluded your branch of service and rank at retirement in delivering my response to you. That would be so disrespectful to those you served with and the branch of the military you served in. The rank you achieved, prior to your retirement, stymies me because you are so rank in nature. "It doesn't matter, at all if you are black or white"...Michael Jackson. Apparently you chose to use it in a very disgusting manner in trying to seek assistance to the plight your granddaughter is suffering and you added to her pain and possible abusive situation... Please for her best interests and welfare, do the right thing and back track and apologize to her and those you offended. I, if the slightest sincerity is detected, will forgive you and, if anyway, I can help you to get your message out, will.

Gumanow   June 17th, 2010 3:22 pm ET

For those of you that object to his picture taking, just remember that these people are celebrities and for the most part thrive on having their photo taken.

Furthermore, you have the right to take any photos you want in a public place. If you stopped and thought about, the government has more cameras around and have more pictures of YOU than you even know about. If you were to stop this type of activity, who's going to be watching them? We must protect the right to photograph in public.

bob magnuson   June 24th, 2010 1:50 pm ET

where or how can I see this movie?

Egoblitz   June 27th, 2010 8:20 pm ET

Get a life and stop bothering people. OK. you stalked someone and took there picture. What did you gain in the long run? A couple hundred dollars for selling it to some trashy tabloid. Or if you get beat up and go to court or have restraining orders against you enough times you can be infamous? Why don't you do what Hugh Hefner does and pay them for there photos lol.

Lou Pasqualino   July 6th, 2010 5:46 pm ET

when will t he picture be on hbo again. Smash His Camera?

Max Lawson   September 21st, 2010 6:11 am ET


The color of your skin does give you shelter from the offensive way you have expressed yourself. You should excluded my branch of service, retirement and rank, since you have probably never know what it is like to serve this great country and would have out of your league. Leonard your wrong. I can tell your a rich W-Boy "It does matter, if you are black or white"...Michael Jackson. Apparently was just like you, someone who never served this Great Nation. Leonard it's not to late, you can serve the Lord.

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