Saturday, May 18, 2013

Patti Smith, The Art World and Paparazzi

I would say that most respectable photographers would shudder (no pun intended ;->) just a bit if referred to as "Paparazzi". But very few people, photographers included, seem to know the origin of the word. Paparazzo was a character from the wonderful film by the Italian director Federico Fellini, La DolcĂ© Vita (The Good Life), a photographer who shadowed the main characters of the film documenting their extravagant lifestyle. It has been said that Fellini picked the name because it is similar to an Italian word for that most annoying of insects, the mosquito. One can quickly see how that applies to what is commonly thought of the Paparazzi; intrusive, invading, annoying, willing to cross all boundaries of decency to get their shot of the hottest celebrities, often in their most embarrassing  moments. Think Ron Galella, who hounded poor Jackie Onassis for years on end. Paparazzi have even been indicted as the cause behind the death of Princess Diana as they raced after her car desperately trying to get shots of her. And so we don't feel so bad about hearing when one gets slugged by some movie star because they have been incessantly stalking him for the past year or so.
I am not here to defend the average paparazzi or try to change anyone's idea about this field of photography in general. I will say that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this work and when handled properly it can be a respectable aspect of the photojournalistic genre. Celebrity is often in the news and there is no denying the populous want to know and see what our celebs are up to at times. Where most photogs in the paparazzi world go wrong is that they often can not tell the difference between a person's public and private life. Anytime in a celeb's life is a good time for them to get their shot. To these little mosquitos celebs don't have a private life.
The best of these shooters know better however. One such shooter would be Patrick McMullan. I knew Patrick way back in the 1980s as he mined the club scene of NYC. Pat didn't stake himself out on the doorsteps of famous people's apartment buildings though. He went where the rich and famous went to be seen. He got to know his subjects, even became their friends. So when celebrity artists, movie stars and musician saw Patrick with his camera at studio 54 or Danceteria they didn't turn and run or put up their hands to the lens. They invited him into their public world. I recommend you look for a book called So 80s: a Photographic Dairy of a Decade. At the time Patrick was shooting this work it was pure scene photography, paparazzi work at it's best. But as a collected works in book form it is an invaluable document of a time an place. BTW, that's my ex on the cover. ;-)
I guess this brings us to Patti Smith and the art world. Sometimes even your's truly dons his paparazzi hat. I must admit that it did make me feel just a little bit old when not a single one of my students seemed to know just who Patti Smith is. Oh, the pain. Patti Smith! The Godmother of Punk for Christ's sake! Poetess extraordinary! It was perhaps a bit more painful that only one of my student knew of Robert Mapplethorpe, the controversial photographer with whom Patti was once seriously involved. Especially controversial in Cincinnati since in 1990 the Contemporary Art Center (CAC) was brought up on obscenities charges for showing his photographs. A few years after Mapplethorpe's death from AIDs Patti wrote a book of poetry called The Coral Sea and about a decade after that composed a musical piece of the same name in his honor. This is what brings Patti to Cincinnati, a multi-media art presentation at the CAC (a fitting venue) of this work and a performance tonight at Memorial Hall of the music. As a long-time fan i am more than pleased to play the respectful paparazzi role at these events. But please, if you see me with my camera...don't call me that! ;-)
Patti Smith at the CAC. ©David Sorcher 2013

Patti and Jesse Smith. ©David Sorcher 2013


1 comment:

  1. And if anyone is interested, here is a link to my gallery on of the entire event.