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Photographing the Famous: 4 Masters of the Genre
Get inspired 11 Jul 2016

Photographing the Famous: 4 Masters of the Genre

The notion of celebrity is closely linked to the dispersion of images. In fact, what would our star system be without all these photos feeding into it? A kind of photojournalism, celebrity photography first appeared at the beginning of the 20th century and then served as the only connection between the stars of the time 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 capture stunning photos that allow us to better understand our beloved stars – and to better idolise them.


Tazio Secchiarolli, the original paparazzo

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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 realised 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 reporting of cinema. In 1963, he meets Sophia Loren and became her 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


Of Ukrainian descent, Sam Levin proved himself as a film set photographer during the golden years of french cinema. He mainly worked with Jean Renoir but also opened 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 up film set photography in Nice but then return to the capital. 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 beyond France. 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”


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 studied photojournalism in Los Angeles, where he discovered the stars and the glitz and glam of Hollywood. Instantly fascinated by this world, he starts to take pictures of big stars, making use of his bold audacity 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, an obsession that cost him 2 trials and a 100-metre restraining order. With Marlon Brando, the confrontation was far more brutal… The actor punched him and broke his jaw. A few hours later, Galella was back on his feet. At his next run-in with Brando, probably aware of the good publicity stunt, he wore a football helmet as a precaution.

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

Annie Leibovitz, a top-notch portraitist


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 1970 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 joined 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 of her subjects. Her signature style defines her as one of today’s most renowned and coveted celebrity photographers.

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