Famous Paparazzo Ron Galella on How He Got His Iconic Shots

The man who spent the ’70s hunting New York’s stars captured amazing photos, got punched.

In 1970s New York the easiest way to find the most happening party was to look for Ron Galella. He would be standing outside. The most shameless American paparazzo spent years stalking movie stars, art world wunderkinds, scenesters, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who famously took out a restraining order to keep the shooter at bay. 

But for many celebrities, the flash of Galella’s camera served as proof that they’d finally made it to the big time. The Korean War Veteran, who went on to exhibit his work at the Museum of Modern Art and London’s Tate Modern, had an unerring sense of whose moment had arrived and whose 15 minutes were up. Still, Galella’s persistence made him a nuisance and proved provocative for some more temperamental stars. Marlon Brando knocked out five of his teeth with a quick right hook.

The new book Ron Galella: New York offers a glimpse into both a glamorous era and the obsessive mind of a celebrity stalker. Here are Galella’s explanations for how he got three iconic shots.

“Madonna and Sean had dinner and came out and we walked with them half a block to their apartment and they have a big courtyard and we start shooting them all the way, my nephew and me and about four other paparazzi and we started going into the courtyard and Sean said, ‘You’re on private property, that’s it,’ and started boxing with him and nobody got hurt. Madonna was at the door yelling, ‘Stop it, stop it, come in!'”

“He’s going to the airport so he stopped because he didn’t want to be followed and he said, ‘OK Ron, I’ll give you a picture here if you don’t follow me,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ so he posed by the lamp post and got rid of me.”

“At the critics awards in 1974, Sardi’s allowed the press in to eat. I sat down and across from me was Robert DeNiro, but he was unknown. Taxi Driver wasn’t out yet. And he says to me, ‘Someday you’re going to take my picture.’ So I shot him.”

Photos by Ron Galella / Damiani