There's no mystery why paparazzi photographs are on everybody's list of guilty pleasures. It's all about passive aggression. We love movie stars and pop idols--but we also happen to resent their beauty, wealth and fame. So it's good to know that there are vile squadrons of ruthless photographers out there making the lives of the famous miserable. Paparazzi are the furies that we dispatch to torment the gods.
For nearly four decades, Ron Galella has been America's most famous Nuisance to the Stars, the kind of photographer who could mount an entire show of nothing but pictures of famous people putting their hands up to block his lens. There are quite a few shots like that in the retrospective of Galella's work that opens this week at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pa. There are even more of them in The Photographs of Ron Galella (Greybull Press; 258 pages; $75), a career-length compilation published earlier this year. Since his first days as an Air Force photographer getting shots of the stars who visited his base, Galella, now 71, has been chasing celebrities. Some prance for him willingly. Some endure his attentions as the price of fame. A few try to break his neck. Jacqueline Kennedy, all 5 ft. 7 in. of her, once pinned him against her limousine. Marlon Brando broke his jaw. A year later, Galella was back stalking Brando but in a football helmet.
Say what you will about Galella's line of work, any one who can take a picture of Elizabeth Taylor with her guard down is performing at least a minor service to posterity. Otherwise we would imagine that her starlight is on all the time. Galella has been to celebrities what Ansel Adams was to mountains, with the important difference that Adams always made the mountains look good. Galella took his famous faces as he found them. From him we learn that Sophia Loren manages to remain majestic even when she's just sitting around an airport, but that Richard Burton was scuffed and dented even on his good days. We learn that Burt Reynolds in a houndstooth, bell-bottom leisure suit is a remarkable sight, especially since you just know that Reynolds thought the outfit was the last word in suave. Anyone who tells you they don't enjoy the thought that wealth and fame are no defense against cluelessness is lying.
We also never tire of learning that wealth and fame are likewise no defense against age, decrepitude and death--another lesson that Galella's pictures teach by reminding us that the aging celebrities of today were once shiny and nubile. We have become so accustomed to the superannuated rubble that is the Rolling Stones, it's possible to forget that Mick Jagger was once supple. Or that Goldie Hawn was once the age that she would like us to think she still is. Maybe it's the constant glare of those cameras flashing, but celebrities fade like old books in the sun. Be afraid, Britney Spears. Be very afraid.