The art of the paparazzi - By Ana Finel Honigman, The National
Celebrities often complain about paparazzi as if they were a pestilence that has just infested the perfect kingdom of superstardom. Even Z-listers whine about stalking snappers violating their privacy. Germany’s tabloid press is less aggressive than the notorious American and British versions. But German newsstands still bulge with magazines contending for the attention of readers eager to look at local and international celebrities from new angles.
This media coverage fuels the assumption that paparazzi have gained strength by serving the countless internet sites and gossip rags that now track the moves of everyone famous, or even just vaguely recognisable. But as the Helmut Newton Foundation’s exhibition Pigozzi and the Paparazzi, currently showing in Berlin, reminds us, the paparazzi are nothing new.

And the best of the breed not only produce iconic images which offer insight into the past century’s most celebrated figures, but can also make and inspire genuine art.
Approximately 350 prints by Erich Salomon, Arthur Fellig (“Weegee”), Ron Galella, Edward Quinn and Daniel Angeli represent the best of the genre. These striking snapshots hang alongside work by Newton and Jean Pigozzi, neither of whom were actually engaging in the aggressive form of photojournalism that defines “paparazzi photography”, but who add context. As the show’s curator, Dr Matthias Harder, explains, “The show is a reflection on the phenomenon of paparazzi photography rather than an overview on the paps.”
The term “paparazzi” was first introduced into popular culture in 1962 by Fellini’s movie La Dolce Vita. In the film, Fellini named a predatory news photographer “Paparazzo”, after Italian slang for a particularly noisy, buzzing mosquito and modelled on the character Tazio Secchiaroli. This celebrity-hounding photographer’s raw, scandalous, glamorous and often hilarious images from the Fifties of Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner, Anita Ekberg and Grace Kelly are the gems of the exhibition.
Secchiaroli might be the inspiration for the name paparazzi, but Pigozzi and the Paparazzi goes back even further into the archives of society snapshots, starting with the German tabloid photojournalist Erich Solomon’s secret shots of politicians, socialites and courtroom proceedings from the Twenties and Thirties. And even without much star-wattage, Weegee’s insightful reportage of crime, poverty and saucy party animals spiced up the tabloids in the Forties and Fifties and still pack a punch today.
Punches, along with other naughtiness, were often caught by the paparazzo’s camera. Included in Pigozzi and the Paparazzi is a 1974 shot (taken by a fellow pap) in which Galella mocks his own experiences at the receiving end of a star’s fist. Galella wears a football helmet and clutches his camera as a chilly Marlon Brando passes him in a hallway. A year earlier, Brando had broken Galella’s jaw and knocked out five teeth; here Brando ignores the helmet that Galella is wearing in supposed self-protection.
Despite these scenes of off-the-cuff celebrity shock-horror scandals, most of the stars seen in the show glow with glamour. Jackie O is consistently chic and cool. And a 1977 image of Prince Charles in the back of a limo shows the royal beaming brightly and pointing a teasing finger at Angeli, the photographer.

While paps catch celebrities off guard, the fashion photographer Helmut Newton was fascinated by the paparazzi themselves. In the show you can see Newton’s staged shoots for Stern, British Vogue and his own archives, taken at the height of his fame. In some, anonymous models pose as harassed starlets with Newton himself pretending to be a paparazzi.
But Newton is not the star of Pigozzi and the Paparazzi. The show’s namesake Jean Pigozzi, an Italian businessman, art collector, philanthropist and proud social climber, is the most photographed person in the exhibition.

Pigozzi’s coarse, chubby face, always wearing the same expression, can be seen pressed against such luminaries as Carla Bruni, Clint Eastwood, Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall and his fellow star-hound Andy Warhol. Though Pigozzi was in a position to party with the stars, his seemingly indiscriminate adoration for all and any level of fame, and his stiff, unappealing physical presence make him a stand-in for each of us – capturing and sharing our hopes and desires to get close to our era’s bright lights and to see them intimately, outside the glare of the spotlight.

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