Ron Galella, a controversial photographer of celebrities whose work often rose to the level of fine art has died, according to a post on his Facebook page. He was 90.
Galella had contentious relationships with many celebrities, including Marlon Brando, Elvis, Sean Penn, and Elizabeth Taylor, most of all, Jaqueline Onasis. His bio on his personal web site proudly states, “Galella had five teeth knocked out and suffered a broken jaw by the hand of a cowardly Marlon Brando who sucker-punched him. He also endured another serious beating by Richard Burton’s bodyguards en route to his hotel – with a brief stop-over to a Mexican jail cell. Further, Galella was also involved in two high-profile legal battles with Jackie Onassis. ”
Galella had a unique obsession with Jacqueline Onassis. The New York Post called it “the most co-dependent celeb-pap relationship ever.” Time Magazine called his image of the ex-First Lady dubbed Windblown Jackie, “one of the most influential photos of all time.” The magazine also dubbed him “the Godfather of the US paparazzi culture.”
Onassis won a restraining order against Galella in 1972. He broke the order four times – and probably many more – and faced seven years in jail and a $ 120,000 fine. The matter was later settled for a $ 10,000 fine. Galella also had to give up his rights to photograph Onassis and her children.
His work has aged well. At their best, the black-and-white images Galella created throughout the ’50s,’ 60s, ’70s and’ 80s captured celebrities in public spaces, but with a disarming intimacy. They were snapped up by premiere publications such as Time, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Vanity Fair, People, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The New York Times and Life. His photographs have been exhibited at such rarified institutions as The Tate and The Met, which owns some of his images.
Galella’s web site describes his technique thusly: “His unique shooting style, pre-focusing his camera at 6 feet, set at F8, and holding the camera near his chest, ensured an interaction with the subject, creating an intimacy like no other.”
Andy Warhol called Galella his “favorite photographer.” Speaking about their mutual fascination with celebrity, Galella observed that he and Warhol had the “same social disease.”
In 2010, Galella was the subject of a documentary by Oscar-winning director Leon Gast called Smash His Camera. The film received the Grand Jury Award at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.