June 16, 2008

Golden age of paparazzi celebrated

At a time when the paparazzi are increasingly vilified, and celebrities win court cases against them for invasion of privacy, their work and methods are to be honoured in Berlin this week with a spectacular exhibition at the Helmut Newton Foundation.

Newton, who died in 2004, was certainly no street-corner snapper himself. He specialised in intricately staged, often kinky photos of naked women, many of which can be seen at the foundation. But he was intrigued by the paparazzi and, in the early 1970s, paid six of them to snap away at one of his own clothed models, as if they were on the chase. Newton then photographed the episode himself.

Unfortunately, the paps decided to sell the shoot to their own outlets and Newton had to dig even deeper into his pockets to buy back their film. The result, called Linea

Italiana after the publication which commissioned the project, takes pride of place in Berlin.

Newton's admiration for two pioneers of the genre is central to the show. One was Erich Salomon, who covered the 1929 trial of a Berlin killer by hiding a camera in his hat. The images allowed him to turn professional; Salomon subsequently became one of the most famous photojournalists of the 1930s.

In the US at the same time, Arthur Fellig ('Weegee') focussed on down-and-outs, disaster and death (his nickname is a Brooklyn distortion of 'Ouija'). By listening to police radio exchanges, he'd get to accidents and crime scenes before the cops, and snap what he found.

After the war, the world's taste for glamour, film and fame generally replaced human upset. Snappers gained power: catching a star unawares and knowing how

to sell the image was a new kind of journalism.

Edward Quinn was the snapper- doyen of the French Riviera in the 1950s. His shot of a sylph- like Kim Novak leaning back, exhausted, in a lift at Cannes is one of this show's most unexpectedly serene.

But more often it's an ugly trade. Ron Galella's encounter with Marlon Brando in 1973 led to the Jackie Onassis-obsessed paparazzo losing five teeth from a Brando punch. The next time they met, someone else snapped the moment - and there's Galella, behind the star, wearing a hilarious protective helmet.

It was Federico Fellini's 1960 film La Dolce Vita which spawned the word 'paparazzi': the film's snapper of celebs is called Paparazzo. He was based on Tazio Secchiaroli, an Italian photographer who had become famous in Rome two years earlier for splashing King Farouk,

Ron Galella lost five teeth to a Marlon Brando punch. The next time that the two met, he wore a helmet

Anita Ekberg and Ava Gardner across magazines on the same day.

Many Secchiaroli photos are in the Berlin show, but the most numerous are by another Italian, Jean Pigozzi.

Pigozzi has spent 30 years befriending the super-famous and getting himself snapped (usually holding the camera himself) next to the world's most recognisable faces. Mick Jagger, Clint Eastwood, Hugh Grant, a 24-year-old Carla Bruni: all are here in a section called 'Pigozzi and Co'. This is celebrity-chasing with a twist: pursuer becomes subject. If anything, Pigozzi is simply saying how silly the whole thing is.
Celebs including Mick Jagger are expected at the opening. Berlin's paps will, of course, take the Helmut Newton Foundation by storm.

Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin, June 20 - November 16

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