After Wednesday’s launch event for Time’s 100 Most Influential Photos, Ron Galella talked shop.
Known by some as “the Godfather of the U.S. paparazzi culture,” the photographer is forever linked to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whom he obsessively trailed. Wearing a red scarf with white stars and a camera strap that had two stamp-sized images of the former first lady, Galella’s allegiance doesn’t seen to have waned. The two battled in court repeatedly and a free-speech trial led to Onassis winning a restraining order against him.
“I’m very proud of my work and very pleased that they chose my ‘Windblown Jackie.’ I call it my Mona Lisa. It’s my greatest picture. It’s selling all over the world many times. It’s my favorite picture. She’s my favorite subject of course,” Galella said. “She may not have loved me but she loved my work.”
The star of the HBO documentary “Smash His Camera” said he gave Onassis an autographed copy of his first book “Jacqueline,” thanking her for making him a celebrity in the trial they had. “She had this book in her library. She never threw it out or gave it away. In fact, my pictures from the court that they subpoenaed are in the JFK Library in Boston, and the books too. So I think she loved my work,” Galella said.
He also claimed that his favorite subject did once speak to him, if you can call it that. “Once at the 21 Club, she came out with Ari Onassis, grabbed me by the wrist, pinned me against her limousine and said, ‘You’ve been hunting me for the three months now,’ and I said, ‘Yes,’” Galella said. “I think she loved being pursued by me, because she was into hunting herself,” referring to her equestrian pursuits.
His own photographic hunts now are limited and the lifelong freelancer blasted the current paparazzi. “Oh my God, it’s terrible. I’m glad that I don’t compete in that sense. I only cover one event and that’s The Met gala each year,” he said.
Referring to the current scene, he said, “Every way, it’s terrible. There are too many. It’s overexposed. Everybody’s a paparazzo with their cell phones so it’s too much. Nobody has become somebody in a way.”
But didn’t he have had a hand in that escalation? “Well, in a sense, maybe, yes, but it’s technology — the cell phone,” Galella said.
Pausing and looking around Time Inc.’s auditorium, he continued, “And People magazine, actually, was launched in 1975 because people were interested in glamour and success, not in Life. Life magazine went out of business because they focused too much on war and reality. People don’t like that. I know there are great war photographers but people are more interested in glamour and success. That’s why People magazine is a success today.”
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