R.I.P. Ron Galella and the true celebrity age

Jackie Onassis and Ron Galella

A sad farewell to celebrity photographer Ron Galella who died last Saturday at the age of 91.

I’m not a celebrity follower. In the famous-for-15-minutes age of the last 20-odd years I’ve actively avoided celeb content as the barriers to entry lowered and any old nobody could achieve notoriety thanks to reality TV and social media (harsh but true). When I worked on a teen magazine, I routinely swerved styling the cover celebrities to avoid having to deal with their wardrobe whims (and publicists’ egos), delegating the task to freelance stylists who were happy for the opportunity.

But Ron Galella made documenting true celebrities an art. He studied photography and considered himself a photojournalist, not merely a pap. His shots of off-duty Hollywood royalty are likely what made many young wannabes aspire to be celebrities. The glamour! The drama! He didn’t use his viewfinder, preferring to make eye contact with his prey in order to achieve a more emotive result.

His choice of A-list stars of the day also arguably shaped our tastes in celebrity. In particular, I love his dynamic pictures of 80s and 90s power couples – Sean Penn and Madonna, Johnny and Winona – and their style choices. He would relentlessly pursue his shot, often resulting in violent defence from his prey – which would, of course, result in even more dramatic images.

Johnny Depp Winona Ryder by Ron Galella
Sean Penn and Madonna by Ron Galella

Here’s where I’m conflicted. Galella was known for his obsession with photographing Jacqueline Onassis; he even published a book dedicated to her. She finally succeeded in obtaining a restraining order to prevent him capturing her every mood. A gentleman he was evidently not, to continue ambushing a woman who has expressed distress. Yet we give Galella a pass. Why? Are we so superficial that we value a glamourous moment over a woman’s emotional and mental safety? Seemingly, yes.

Jackie Onassis by Ron Galella

Galella’s passing coincided with two major news events; the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard hearings and the Met Gala. As we consume every detail of Depp and Heard’s private lives, the truth finally emerges that celebs (A-list or otherwise) really are as flawed, complex, yet mundane as the rest of us. At the ‘gilded glamour’-themed Met Gala, Kim Kardashian was given the honour of being last to arrive on the red carpet. In her clickbait-worthy archive Marilyn Monroe gown, she proved that influence and fame rather than uniqueness or outstanding talent are the markers of success in the Instagram era. A reality TV star scoring clout via a legit screen legend’s legacy says it all. R.I.P. Ron Galella and R.I.P. the true celebrity age.

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Ron Galella
NOTE: Most images are digitally enhanced. Some posts use affiliate links and PR samples. Please read my privacy and cookies policy here

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