PHOTOGRAPHING STARS : 4 MASTERS OF THE GENRE AND THEIR METHODS

Life - -

The notion of celebrity is closely linked to the dispersion of the concerned person’s image. In fact, what would our star system be without all these photos to feed it ? A kind of photojournalism, celebrity photography first appeared at the beginning of the 20th century and then served as the only connection between stars of the moment and their audiences. Whether they spend hours in the studio with their subjects or steal a photo at a street corner, these 4 photographers have managed to enter the biggest celebrities’ intimacy and thus capture their very essence… The result ? Stunning photos that allow us to better understand our beloved stars – and to better idolize them.

  

{Tazio Secchiarolli, the original paparazzo}

Sophia Loren on a break during the filming of "Arabesque" (1966)

Sophia Loren on a break during the filming of “Arabesque” (1966)

The myth says that Secchiarolli was Fellini’s inspiration for the character “Paparazzo” in the film “La Dolce Vita” (1960). This seems very plausible considering Secchiarolli’s first cover was a photo of the ex-king of Egypt, Farouk, and 2 women, which cost him a fight with the king in person.

While working for various big news agencies, Secchiarolli realized that standard celebrity portraits didn’t interest editors anymore. That is why he started to take and sell stolen photos of these celebrities, more often than not in compromising situations. Out of a particularly daring voyeurism for this time, Secchiarolli made money this way, chasing images of well-known figures in the Roma of the 1960s. Leaving the streets for the sets of Cinecitta, he then pursued a career in photo report of cinema. In 1963, he meets Sophia Loren and became his official photographer – which marked the beginning of a 20-year collaboration.

Keen and provocative, Secchiarolli transformed the art of photographing the rich and famous with raw and sulfurous pictures that set precedent for the “paparazzi aesthetic”.   

 

{Sam Lévin, THE studio photographer}

Brigitte Bardot, the Towel Session (1959)

Brigitte Bardot, the Towel Session (1959)

Of Ukrainian descent, Sam Levin proved himself as a film set photographer during the golden years of french cinema. He namely worked with Jean Renoir meanwhile opening a studio where he took more personal portraits of the movie stars he worked with on set. After the second war during which he had to flee Paris, he picked film set photography back up in Nice, to then return to the capital. Nevertheless, he devoted himself to studio portraiture and photographed all the big stars of the era, including the one and only Brigitte Bardot. The pictures he snapped of the young actress contributed to shaping the myth with a series of now iconic photos. Renowned actors pose for him one after another and his photos are shown far out of the French territory. In total, his collection counts more than 600 000 pictures. Even more remarkable is the number of celebrities he photographed over the course of his career : 6000 !

An authentic celebrity portraitist and most likely the first of his kind, Sam Lévin knew how to win over his subjects and celebrate their assets with pictures full of sensibility.

 

{Ron Galella, the “king of paparazzis”}

Windblown (1971)

Windblown (1971)

During his 20-year long career in the field, Ron Galella lived for the American stars he photographed at whatever price. Improbable start : he discovers photography in the Army during the Korean War. Once back in the United States, he pursues studies in photojournalism in Los Angeles, where he discovers the stars and glitter of Hollywood. Instantly fascinated by this world, he starts to take pictures of big stars, making use of his impudence to get into premieres and other private events.

Madonna, Elvis Presley, Andy Warhol, Robert Redford… No one escaped Galella’s camera lens. He is particularly relentless with his “golden girl”, Jackie Kennedy, with an obsession that cost him 2 trials and a 100-meter restraining order. With Marlon Brando, the confrontation is far more brutal… The actor punches him and breaks his jaw. A few hours later, Galella is back on his feet. At his next run-in with Brando, probably aware of the good publicity stunt, he wears a football helmet in precaution.

Even though he was controversial, Galella made paparazzis essential to the showbiz. With his exceptional photos, he mostly contributed to making stolen photography an almost noble profession.

 

{Annie Leibovitz, a top-notch portraitist}

Whoopi Goldberg, Berkeley, California (1984)

Whoopi Goldberg, Berkeley, California (1984)

American photographer specialized in celebrity photography, Annie Leibovitz knows how to shed light on the glamour of her subjects. She starts out at Rolling Stones magazine where she works from 1070 to 1983. It is during a Rolling Stones tour that she develops her trademark technique : using bold colors and unexpected positions. Her iconic photo of a naked John Lennon, in a foetal position, wrapped around Yoko Ono, all dressed in black (and this right before the former’s assassination) is its most poignant testament. At Vanity Fair, which she joins in 1983, Leibovitz has anybody who’s anybody in the world on her sets : Queen Elizabeth, Barack Obama, Baryshnikov, Nelson Mandela. Her extravagant decors cost magazines huge amounts of money. This does not keep her from cumulating a collection of over 200 portraits of stars.

Within the limits of rather classical framing, Leibovitz uses theatrical setups and contrasted lighting to reveal the larger-than-life quality to her subjects. Her signature style defines her as one of today’s most renowned and coveted celebrity photographers.

Share this post:

Leave a comment