Art & Photography / In Pictures

Flashback: A Rare Showcase of Retro Paparazzi Photos

There is beauty to be found in the earliest celebrity snapshots, taken on the streets of Rome in the mid-20th century – as new exhibition La Dolce Vita reveals

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Giancarlo-Botti,-Sophia-Loren-in-a-Dramatic-Moment
Sophia Loren in a Dramatic Moment on SetPhotography by Giancarlo Botti, courtesy of James Hyman Gallery

Tazio Secchiaroli, Marcello Geppetti, and Pierluigi Praturlon are just three of a group of early pioneers of paparazzi photography who are relatively unknown today – not only are their names unfamiliar, but the fascinating story behind the inception of this photographic genre has been sadly forgotten. Fortunately, curator and gallery owner James Hyman has amassed a vast collection of vintage photographs, unique prints and limited edition works since he began collecting in the 1990s; he has passionately collected vintage paparazzi photographs for many years, specialising in those taken in Rome in the 1950s and 1960s.

Hyman has curated a new show featuring over 80 rare photographs from this expansive collection, many of which have never been previously exhibited or published. The show, entitled La Dolce Vita: Tazio Secchiaroli and the Paparazzi in Italy, explores how the captivating aesthetic present in many early paparazzi photographs made for a persuasive argument for the artistry of these image-makers. “Within the genre of paparazzi photography, Geppetti, Pierluigi and Secchiaroli are amongst the greats," Hyman say of a few select figures. "I think their work from the beginning had high artistic values.” Compelled, AnOthermag.com delves into the life and work of these photographers, and finds out just why the curator and photographic expert has distinguished them from their peers.

Leader of the Pack
Italian practitioner Tazio Secchiaroli took his first photograph in 1941, capturing tourists and American soldiers on the streets of Rome. His idea to sell photographs of celebrities to newspapers stemmed from the desire to make a bigger profit, and he began to stage uncomfortable confrontations with his celebrity prey. The ever-present sense of dynamism in the photographs was no doubt intentional, as he sped around Rome on his Vespa chasing celebrities for the elusive shot.

Secchiaroli garnered such a prominent reputation for his aggressive style that Italian film director and screenwriter Federico Fellini based the news photographer character 'Paparazzo' on him in the 1960 Italian comedy-drama La Dolce Vita. The tenacious figure of Paparazzo gave us the term that is so familiar today, and boosted Secchiaroli’s career to the extent that filmmakers and stars began hiring him as their personal photographer. Shortly afterwards, in 1963. Jean-Luc Godard chose Secchiaroli as the on-set photographer for the film Le Mepris, and the resulting shots of Brigitte Bardot are simultaneously voyeuristic and intimate, hinting at the beginning of an era where celebrities would work in collusion with the paparazzi.

The Choice of Nine Stars out of Ten
Pierluigi Praturlon began his career as a photo-journalist, but got his first taste of paparazzi-style photography in 1947 when, by chance, he happened to catch reclusive starlet Greta Garbo on film in Rome. By 1949, Praturlon had started a successful career as an on-set photographer for the Italian film industry, even becoming personal photographer to Sophia Loren. He was given the nickname 'Lux', because of the popular soap brand which, in its adverts, claimed to be “the choice of nine stars out of ten.”

His most famous legacy, however, came about entirely accident, when out walking through Rome with pneumatic actress Anita Ekberg. The starlet took off her shoes and stepped into the Fontana di Trevi to relieve her aching feet, which Praturlon quickly captured on his Leica camera. The resulting images were published in the magazine Tempo Illustrato, and were consequently spotted by filmmaker Federico Fellini, who was inspired to write the anecdote into La Dolce Vita. The scene, in which Anita Ekberg wades through the fountain in a dangerously seductive black evening dress, was to become one of the most iconic in modern cinema.

Underrated
There are over one million photographs in the vast archive of Marcello Geppetti’s enduring works. The editor of American Photo magazine described Geppetti as an 'underrated photographer', and his intimate photographs lay testament to this claim. Geppetti’s informal, personal shots of The Beatles perfectly capture the zeitgeist of the era. In fact, it was Geppetti’s infamous photograph of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor sharing a private and intimate kiss that has fixed the photographer into paparazzi legend. Taken in 1962, he used a long-lensed camera to capture the two actors on a yacht off the coast of Naples. Both Burton and Taylor were married to other people at the time and the photograph is an iconic example of the scandalous type of paparazzi image that define our understanding of it today. Speaking

In fact, it was Geppetti’s infamous photograph of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor sharing a private and intimate kiss that has fixed the photographer's status as a paparazzi legend. Taken in 1962, he used a long-lens camera to capture the two actors on a yacht off the coast of Naples. Both Burton and Taylor were married to other people at the time, and the photograph is an iconic example of the scandalous paparazzi photography that defines our understanding of the medium today.

“The best of these photographers deserve to be considered as artists," Hyman says, on the undeniable beauty of these early paparazzi images. "Today there is a more knowing relationship between star and photographer, and the power dynamic is very different. The picture quality is far less important: an image, preferably salacious, is almost all that matters.”

The exhibition is a veritable celebration of the forgotten artistry of these early paparazzi images. The curator has described the photographers as “great unsung heroes, the best of whom had a clear aesthetic that helped create the public image of these great stars.”

La Dolce Vita: Tazio Secchiaroli and the Paparazzi in Italy is on show at James Hyman Gallery until March 18, 2016.

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