The Photography of Ron Galella: Cultural Refuse or High Art?

Over the long weekend, I had a chance to watch the Ron Galella documentary, “Smash His Camera,” which was released earlier this year on HBO. The film chronicles the career of one of America’s original paparazzi, including his notorious photographic infatuation with Jackie Kennedy (made famous by the law suit won by Jackie in the 70’s) and his confrontation with Marlon Brando that resulted in an assault that left five of Galella’s teeth punched out.

The film is an interesting look at celebrity, privacy, and the world of the paparazzi in general – but what I found most interesting was the discussion on whether Galella’s work could be considered art. Love him or hate him, the high art world has taken notice and exhibited his work, with shows at respected museums and galleries including The Museum of Modern Art.

The idea of showing celebrity in its “true” form is an interesting notion in itself, when culturally we are all used to seeing images of our favorite stars exquisitely styled and polished. Additionally, Galella’s tactics in getting the shots and his relationship with his subjects is another unique quality he has over your run-of-the-mill paparazzo. And although many of his shots (he has over 3 million in his career) are straightforward and almost boring, there are also many gems – shots that have life, energy, and a moment that is more special than anything that could be staged.

No matter how you feel about Galella or paparazzi in general, the film is a compelling profile of the “artist,” with thoughtful commentary from experts in the industry that represent both sides of the discussion. It’s definitely worth seeing for anyone with an interest in celebrity, photography, or art in general.