Ron Galella is a paparazzi photographer from the 60’s and 70’s. Here in this interview, Galella talks about his career, iconic images he has taken, his close brushes with his subjects and his thoughts on what paparazzi photography has come to stand for today.
This article made rounds amongst the local community on the Internet awhile back and I think it is a poignant reminder of the potent psychological and physiological impact the camera can have on us.
In this case, the sheer number of people doing the image capture, the underlying sexual undertones of the act of image capture, and the male gaze upon the female body as an object of desire, all come together to create a situation that led to the subjects feeling distressed.
In some ways, the swarm aspect of this incident relates to what I hope to create as well with my paparazzi swarm – the mass unibody group operating as a image making collective engaging upon an individual or a smaller group of people.
It is also interesting to note that in this particular incident the photographs were made on cellphone cameras – a device that is considerably much smaller than a full sized dedicated camera, and one that is typically associated with a more stealthy style of shooting. Yet in this case, the device is used in a very obvious manner. Perhaps the size of the camera may not matter as much in certain contexts? Or does the potential internet connectivity on these phones create a greater sense of discomfort since it is knowingly possible that the phone can capture, transmit, broadcast or transfer the digital image in a matter of seconds.
Lastly, it should also be observed that the subjects themselves eventually took to making images of these men as a way to cope with the situation. Perhaps as pictorial evidence of these aggressors and/or a way to simulate and reflect back the “pictorial assault” to them.
You can read more about the incident below:
On 24 March 2014, a friend and I conducted some preliminary tests on the paparazzi idea. Though it is a much scaled down version than the actual idea, it gave some interesting results.
The following is a selection of some of the results:
#1 – Unknown couple
Expectedly they grew wary of the presence of the cameras and flash and began speeding up their walk to get away from us
#2 – Unknown lady
The lady seemed curious about what we were doing but ultimately did little than to look up from her phone to look at us
#3 – Unknown male student
Again similar to #2, but this male student was evidently more apprehensive about what we were doing
#4 – Two unknown male students
This two male students remained largely indifferent to the cameras and our picture making antics.
#5 – Unknown male student
This male student was evidently curious and apprehensive about having this photo taken but ultimately did little to enquire or approach the photographers.
#6 – Unknown female student
We decided to test a different approach, instead of trying to catch people in transit, we wanted to catch people while they were doing something. Here we photographed a female student working away in an open study area. She became aware of our presence and picture taking actions after a few shots. Interesting, she decided to shy away from the camera instead of confronting the photographers.
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Interestingly though my friend and I photographed dozen of people in an obvious manner, only 3 of our subjects sought clarification about what we were doing. This deviates from my initial expectation that people would be more shy or aggressive towards having their image taken.
An addition passerby (an unknown adult male) who saw what was happening did approach us to enquire what we were going to use the images for. Though he dispensed his recommendation that we should actively inform the subjects of our project, he too was surprised at the low number of people who actively objected or enquired about what we were doing.
There are various possible reasons why this dominant behaviour could have occurred. The safety of the school environment could possibly account for this. The subjects may have assumed we were part of the campus student reportage team.
It may also be possible that the younger generation is much more comfortable in the presence of the camera or having their images taken by others. Hence, they objected less actively to our actions.
On the end of the photographers, it was evident that both my friend and I were initially apprehensive about the possible reactions we might receive for attempting to directly photograph our subjects. In the end, we were both surprised that so few actively approached us after their photo was taken.
Overall, it was an interesting experiment. The results herein will serve as a useful point of reference for the actual shoot.
After several weeks of moving back and forth between various ideas, I finally came upon one that I’ll be exploring under the our final project for this Media & Performance class.
I was searching for an idea that incorporated an element of the camera (you can read my initial ideation here: http://oss2014.adm.ntu.edu.sg/weilong/project-hyperessay-work-in-progress/) functioning not just as an instrument of image capture, but also as a physical object that exerts a psychological and physiological change on us.
I decided to look at the much maligned form of photography known as “paparazzi photography”.
The direct flash, chaotic composition, celebrity subjects are all part of the visual language of paparazzi photography. Its intrusive, aggressive and voyeuristic nature are also hallmarks of such a mode of photography.
As a media product, these pictures feed into the larger media and pop culture machinery, stimulating the insatiable demand of the public or curious onlookers for a peek into the lives of the rich and famous.
Screenshots of paparazzi style photographs found on tabloid and celebrity gossip website, The Superficial.
Much like the above examples, these photographs often accompany written articles to produce a visual/text product that freely mixes between ridicule, the salacious and objectification. The subjects themselves often have little to no control to how they are portrayed, and are at best, flatten into simplistic, and easily understood caricatures.
But what happens when such a device is used to photograph the common man? Can such a mode of working reveal a truth or evoke situations for us to understand better how contemporary society relates to photography and the camera?
The work of Bruce Gilden (that’s him below) comes to mind when I began thinking upon these lines. His controversial style of street photography challenges (even till today) what we can accept as “proper” behaviour of a photographer, and what a good photograph is.
Gilden gets up close to his unsuspecting subjects and fires his flash into their path. This produces intriguing and unusual pictures with unique results.
But of course Gilden was probably not coming from/functioning in the capacity of a paparazzi photographer as he approached making his work. Though his lack of regard for social norms (e.g. not getting to someone’s face) recalls the aggressive practices of paparazzi photographers.
The work of Philip-Lorca DiCorcia also comes to mind. The photographer’s Heads series (some examples below) features photographs captured of unsuspecting passersby through the use of hidden strobes. Though, the aesthetic adopted here by DiCorcia is notably much more nuanced and poetic; much less aggressive than the work of Gilden.
So really, what I hope to investigate through this project is how paparazzi style photography when applied to shooting the layman in the context of contemporary Singapore can become a premise for which to access observations about the relationship between us, the camera, and images; negotiating between the private and public domain.