Ron Galella Was Scorned, but Not His Celebrity Photos

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis won a restraining order against the paparazzo
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 2, 2022 7:55 PM CDT
Paparazzo Became Infamous Ambushing Celebrities
Veteran photographer Ron Galella holds a copy of his book "Jacqueline" as he faces the media at the premiere of "Smash His Camera," in London in 2010.   (AP Photo / Yui Mok, PA)

Ron Galella, the photographer who helped create the privacy-free celebrity culture of today while infuriating his famous subjects, has died. He was 91 and died Saturday at his home in New Jersey of congestive heart failure, the New York Times reports. A freelancer, he followed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis relentlessly for years in search of candid shots, until a judge ordered him to stay 25 feet from the former first lady and 30 feet from her children. After violating the court order for years, he agreed to never take another photo of them.

Beginning in the 1960s, Galella also heightened the ambivalence toward celebrity coverage. Many people agreed with his famous subjects, some of whom who spit at him, flipped him off, and scorned him for taking intrusive photos without permission and profiting from them. Marlon Brando once slugged him. But there was a market for his work, including the 22 books he produced. His shots of Elvis Presley through Taylor Swift add up to the world's largest single-source photo archive dedicated to popular culture, per the Hollywood Reporter.

And the photos, at least, were admired, eventually hanging in museums and galleries around the world. Galella had studied photography and stage direction, and his work was once described as "intimate and aggressive at the same time," per the Times. He'd prefocus his camera at 6 feet, set exposure to F8, hold the camera at his chest, and make eye contact, per the Reporter. "You are looking at them person to person," Galella said in 2010. “That is greater than the subject looking at the camera, which is a machine." In his effort to surprise celebrities, Galella would bribe doormen, maids, and limo drivers to tip him off. "I disapproved of him," the late critic Roger Ebert said, "and enjoyed his work." (More obituary stories.)

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