He’s been called a stalker, a parasite, a scumbag and the lowest of the low but his work has become an insight into human nature and a perfectly organic historical record of some of the most iconic characters of our time. Meet Ron Galella, the world’s most influential paparazzi.
Ron Galella is hardly considered an artist. Yet his work spanning more than 50 years is exhibited in art galleries all over the world. Ron has also done well enough for himself to have produced numerous books on photography, a documentary chronicling his most iconic work and his many eccentricities (including owning a Tony Soprano-style sprawling mansion complete with a rabbit cemetery), and he is regarded as probably the most influential yet controversial professional in his field.
Yet, Ron is what many refer to as a stalker, a pest and a man without morals. Why? Because he is probably the most successful paparazzi of this time and could very well remain so. He has made a name and a career for himself by taking unauthorised, unsolicited and invasive photographs of celebrities and has risen to fame for stopping at almost nothing to secure the perfect shot.
His most famous celebrity feuds have included an altercation with Marlon Brando where the actor sucker-punched the photographer causing Ron to lose five teeth and two lawsuits brought against him by his most favoured subject, Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
Ron’s photographs have gained critical acclaim and are now viewed as a contemporary art form with private collectors paying top dollar for his prints.
His favourite shot is one where Jackie O is standing on the street sans sunglasses, windblown and half-smiling at the camera. He calls this his ‘Mona Lisa’ and indeed, ‘Windblown Jackie’ is the one photograph that garners the most recognition and, of course, highest value in his collection. Ron had caught Jackie unawares in Madison Avenue when he pursued her in a cab and the cab driver honked his horn. “I don’t think she knew it was me,” remembers Ron. “That’s why she smiled a little.”
Despite having had two restraining orders brought against him by the former First Lady for having invaded the privacy of her and her children, Ron relentlessly pursued her for his photographs. She became somewhat of an obsession for him and Ron muses, “I’ve analysed it. (At the time) I had no girlfriend so she was my girlfriend, in a way.”
He has become known as ‘the Godfather of American paparazzi culture’ and it is incidences like the one he had with the Godfather himself (Marlon Brando) that earns him the reputation. Ron was photographing Brando after a TV appearance in Chinatown when the movie star turned on him and socked him in the jaw so hard he lost five teeth. Ron went to the emergency room, got his jaw wired and went right back to work, still shooting.
The next time he photographed Brando though, he was prepared…he wore a football helmet and made sure he was photographed doing so with the star. Ron would stop at nothing to get the money shot.
He has flown across continents; once he paid a watchman 12 dollars to grant him access into a rat infested warehouse and he staked out there with just a roll of toilet paper all for the sake of photographing Elizabeth Taylor and her then husband Richard Burton while they holidayed on a yacht docked in the middle of the Thames river. Richard Burton once even sent goons to beat Ron up for the sake of securing his film. He is so notorious that in a way, he became as well-known as the celebrities that feared him.
To find out more about where you can purchase Ron Galella’s books and prints, please visit: www.rongalella.com
Text By: Shakila Rajendra