Since she became a public figure, people were obsessed with Jackie Kennedy, but why did this iconic photo spark her anger?
The internet is full of pictures of our favorite celebrities taken by the infamous paparazzi. We, the public, have a love-hate relationship with them: we like to see them, but we also hate how aggressive and ruthless the paps can be in order to get their shots. Though this practice was pretty much invented in Italy (specifically in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita), there’s no doubt that this figure took shape in the United States in the person of Ron Galella, a photographer who took the business of celebrity photos to the next level through his characteristic style of stalking and ambushing them. There’s no doubt that he gave us some of the best pictures of iconic celebrities of the sixties and seventies, but there’s something eerie and kind of disturbing, even today, about the way he talks about his job. A great example of his very problematic work are the many photographs he took of the famous First Lady, Jackie Kennedy.
In an interview he gave to Time, he explains his process and what led him to this very unusual, but increasingly popular job. As he explains, it was the golden era for the newly called paparazzi since celebrities at the time didn’t have that much security and they had easy access to basically everyone. For him, what really attracted him and inspired him every day, was being able to capture their real essence, the human beings behind the fabricated celebrity persona they portrayed in magazines. That’s why people craved these shots, they showed their favorite celebrities as they really were. Of course, this made the paparazzi business in the US and the world reach unimaginable heights, to the point that some celebrities even died in their attempt to run away from them, but that’s another story.
He captured the hottest celebrities at the time, getting thousands of iconic pictures, most of them showing their contempt towards him with a huge middle finger in the center of the photo. But without a doubt, his obsession (he even says at one point that he considered her as something close to a girlfriend) was Jackie, his muse, as he suggests at some point. He first saw Jackie in 1967 at a gallery in Madison Square. For him, she was a mysterious character. Even though she was incredibly famous, she presented herself as a mysterious woman who allured him immensely. She hardly gave interviews at the time, and wouldn’t even speak loudly to people around her.
She walked with a great panache, but that was the only thing you could really get from her. The more you saw her the more you wanted to know about her, and he knew that the American public felt the same way about her. He soon managed to get her address and would stay there to take the best pictures of her everyday life: every time she went out and the different outfits would she wear. He probably has about a million pictures of her, and the ones where she’s moving are his very favorites because they portray her as she was: no poses and nothing artificial or prefabricated.
One day in September, 1972, Jackie decided to take a ride on her bike to Central Park with her son John Jr. He had already found out the plans from the doorman next door (he was a very insistent and keen photographer who wanted to be prepared at all times). He guessed the route they were going to take and decided to wait for them to come out from one of the small paths. The moment she saw what was going on, she ordered one of her secret service officers to literally “smash his camera,” but luckily for him, it didn’t happen. Still, she sent two officers to go after him and take the film from him. They ended up going to court for that particular case. Galella was forbidden to get closer than 50 yards to her or her family on the streets, nor near her apartment for 100 yards. He appealed and the numbers were lowered to 25 yards. He would even carry jokily a huge measuring tape around him to prove he was adhering to the court’s sentence.
The following year, having more trouble to get near her, he found an opportunity that would become one of the most iconic photographs of the former First Lady. According to his version of the story, he had been summoned by a model named Joyce Smith to take some pictures for her book. They went to Central Park, and there they saw Jackie. He decided to take a chance, and having stalked her for years, he guessed the path she was going to take and took a taxi to gain time. As he had predicted, she appeared walking right at the corner he was. The taxi driver saw it was Jackie and blew his horn right when she was passing by them. She turned and pump, the perfect photo was taken. "Windblown Jackie," as the photo became known, shows the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that no one really knew: a spontaneous, carefree woman walking by the street looking like everybody else, in other words, deprived of all her history, appearances, and gossip; just a regular and attractive woman.
Now, the problem with paparazzi is that they’re never content with one good photo, and of course, Galella wasn’t the exception. He kept chasing her and even asked Smith, who was still with him, to take photos of him next to her. Tired, Jackie turned to him and asked him if he was “pleased with himself,” and as he cynically explains in the interview, he just replied “yes, thank you” and left. Something interesting he says in the video is that he never felt guilty about literally pushing her all the time, and stalking her for years because he didn't really see it as a moral matter.
Again, no matter how great or culturally important his photos are (we have to admit that they are much better than what we see nowadays), there’s something weird about this guy that gives me the creeps. It’s not only the lack of regret or ethics, it’s his usual comments towards his subjects what makes it all wrong. With regard to Jackie, he finds it funny how many times she asked him to stop and even the despair, and for him “the only way she disappointed me was with the court battles.” Seriously, dude? You harassed the woman for years, yet she’s the one who disappointed you? This guy's case definitely has to make us think about this sick celebrity culture and to really see that they’re public figures that are there to entertain us only through their job. This applies to how we engage with them on social media as well.
Don’t miss the story behind these iconic photos: