Many of his best images are fueled by this tension between the thrilling visuals and the manner in which the photo was taken—the uncertain consent of his subject, the photographer’s motives, and then one’s own collusion as a viewer. There’s Woody Allen, wincing, palm up. A hooded Katharine Hepburn ducking into her limo. The long legs of Julia Roberts, her thigh in the foreground, as she huddles with Jason Patric, the two hiding their faces from the cameras after a long chase. Even Frank Sinatra looks atypically vulnerable, shouting, “You wop, you ask permission!”
The photographs are beautiful. But Galella’s most singular contribution to the culture is not aesthetic; it’s the way he has acted as an avatar for the public’s craving to at once elevate stars and force them to our level, a desire that seems to have grown only more ravenous, and more internally contradictory, in recent years. (Or to put it in Us Weekly’s terms, Stars: Are They Just Like Us?) Those who would judge the paparazzi are the same ones who gobble up their images, Galella points out. The best of these images offer their audience a glorious justice, a punishment and a reward for fame: the class war of the camera lens.
“Does anyone have that glamour today?” I ask.
“Some actresses have that old quality,” he says hesitantly. “Meryl Streep is a great actress, like Hepburn in a way. Nicole Kidman. They’re good actresses. But I don’t know if they’re as … glamorous.”
“Would you go to their homes?”
No, he says. “I’d rather do what’s- her-name—”
“Who would you doorstep?” Betty prompts him.
“Angelina Jolieeeee! Angelina Jolieeee!” he says, his eyes lighting up, catching that name and letting it furl out like a banner. “She’s got a sexy face. And the husband, he’s good-looking, too, Brad Pitt. Oh, Angelina Jolie and the family.”
Galella acted as an avatar for the public’s craving to at once elevate stars and force them to our level.
And of course, Galella himself is now something of a celebrity, which he enjoys. (He loves being photographed, unlike Betty: The dedication to No Pictures calls her “so modest, unlike me.”) Some of the photos in the book rely on this peculiar dynamic: The star recognizes Galella, then performs the “no photos” stance as an homage. He even has a stalker, a woman who sent him intimate e-mails that Betty resented as invasions of their partnership.
Galella has no regrets for playing what he calls “the only game.” When he confronted Greta Garbo, back in 1969, she pulled out her umbrella and cried out, “Why do you bother me? I have done nothing wrong.” He felt bad, he said. He didn’t follow her the half a block to her home. But her photo is still in No Pictures.
Jackie, he tells me, was the biggest hypocrite of them all. Rich, haughty, a snob with (he claims) a secret scrapbook of press photos of herself in the closet. (He was told this by her maid, with whom he flirted in order to get access to Jackie’s whereabouts.)
And yet it’s clear that Galella is still besotted with his most famous subject fourteen years after her death. “Most of the time she would ignore me,” he tells me in a dreamy tone. “That was why she was my favorite subject. Because she allowed me to shoot my way.”
In his first book, Jacqueline, published in 1974, a year after losing the court case, he writes about how he misses shooting her. “They were thrilling times. I remember wandering through Central Park on fall afternoons and all of a sudden finding her, like a diamond in the grass.” Galella shot Jackie bicycling in Central Park; at Bobby Kennedy’s funeral; picnicking alone with her children in Peapack, New Jersey. Once, he got a precious image of her buying magazines at a newsstand, “paying for them with money, just like an ordinary American woman.” He even followed Jackie to the island of Mykonos, where he disguised himself as a Greek sailor to get bikini shots. Another photographer shot Jackie topless, but he tells me he wouldn’t have released that image: “I like to have taste that’s good.”
Galella knows he owes his own fame to Jackie and to the flashpoint that was their nonconsensual legal and artistic collaboration. When he chose as his subject the most famously private woman in the world, he sounded the death knell on that particular oxymoron. After Galella, celebrity evolved; it become democratized, diluted. Many stars choose to lean into the flash now, to be a canny collaborator rather than a subject to the surveillance. They market baby photos to reduce the value of spy-shots; they manipulate photographers to publicize their faux-personal dramas; they reveal so as not to be exposed. It is a development that Galella decries, but it’s also one he helped create.