“My era was glamour”
Australian photographer Robert Rosen on a lifetime of meeting (and snapping) the most famous people in the world, from Kylie and Michael to Nicole and Heath
On the release of a collection of his photos, Australian “snaparazzi” to the stars Robert Rosen reveals how he won the trust of the world’s most famous people.
When Robert Rosen was studying photography in the 1970s, his teacher gave him some sage advice. “Paul Cox, who [became] a film director, said, ‘Never throw a negative out.’ Thank God I took notice.”
Now Rosen has shoehorned nearly four decades of social and fashion photography, many via his old-school archive of negatives, into his new book
“The first edit had 3000 photos,” Rosen says with a laugh. “Cutting that down was like throwing your children out.”
After school in Melbourne, then a move to Sydney, Rosen relocated to London in the late ’70s. He calls it “an exciting period – the punks and new romantics all mixed together… the street was like a fashion parade.”
He soon noticed the social snappers mixing work and pleasure in nightclubs he would frequent. “I thought, ‘I come to these clubs every night – I’ll take a camera’… and that’s how it all started.” One of those spots, which Glitterati documents, was the Blitz club, epicentre of the city’s new romantic scene. “The kids who went there were Boy George, Billy Idol, Steve Strange and Marilyn. They loved having their photos taken because they’d spent all day getting ready to go out and be noticed. And a lot of them went on to be famous. I knew Boy George was going to be somebody even when he was working in the cloak room – he just had that aura.”
Rosen’s book showcases his ability to capture – from red carpets to VIP parties – that X factor across a huge range of famous names. “My era – the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s – was glamour. Glitterati – that’s what it was all about! I’m not paparazzi, I’m snaparazzi.” He earned that nickname in the ’80s, having won subjects’ trust by refusing to publish unflattering photos.
“I never want to insult anybody. It works both ways, celebrities know that. They want to be in the press and I want my photos of them to be in the press. I’m not going to put out a bad photo of them. So I was one of the few photographers invited into these parties where I could get photos that weren’t so posed, or they were relaxed after a few drinks and more willing to pose. These days, people want to see celebrities in their natural environment, or looking a bit drunk. I don’t. I just do what pleases the subject.”
While his contemporaries back in the day lugged around big cameras, Rosen was an early adopter of the pocket model. “People don’t feel so inhibited [around] a small camera. A lot of people thought I was just another guest. I’d always dress appropriately.”
An adherence to dress code, and good manners, saw Rosen ushered into a 1982 event at Abbey Road Studios while other photographers stayed out in the snow. “I went up to Paul and Linda Mccartney, said hi and asked if I could take their photo.we did three shots, then they kissed, which I didn’t ask them to do. But I snapped it.”
Rosen rushed off to develop the image – “film in those days, of course” – and realised what he had. “That kissing photo went around the world. A few months later I ran into Linda and she hugged me and said how beautiful the photo was – I’d sent her a copy. That moment was worth more than any money I got for the photograph.”
In 1990, Rosen was invited to the late Michael Hutchence’s 30th birthday, where he took casual loved-up photos of the singer and his then-girlfriend Kylie Minogue. “They were a great celebrity couple, a good balance for each other. Michael was gorgeous, really handsome, a beautiful man. He had this charisma that flowed out of him.”
His archives also include an early shot of Heath Ledger with Rosen’s mate Jack Thompson. “That was my first sighting of Heath – I think he’d just started.” The shot, he says, captures the very moment he met the late actor. Nicole Kidman is another favourite. “She’s a beauty, but she also radiates warmth from inside, which is important. If people radiate something, it comes out in the photo.”
Rosen is now watching the entire industry change, with celebrities posting their own pictures on Instagram and phones doubling as cameras. “[They] have defeated the purpose of paparazzi,” he says. “Anyone in the street or club or restaurant can get their phone out, take a photo of a celebrity and put it on social media. Photographers find it hard to get photos printed. They’ve already been online!”
Rosen now lives in Bali, which he discovered on a stopover during a trip home from London to Sydney in the early ’80s. Frequent visits inspired a permanent move, and Rosen was among the first in a line of Australian creatives who fell for the charms of the popular tourist destination enough to make it home.
Rosen says he is “sort of semi-retired”, and after a lifetime spent rubbing elbows with the most famous people on the planet, he is happy to be away from the scene – and no longer chasing invites or entrée beyond velvet ropes.
“I just take portraits of interesting people I might see on the street or the beach now. I’m older. I want a more relaxed lifestyle. I lived five to seven parties a night for over 30 years. I’m exhausted! I’m having a holiday.”
“Michael Hutchence was a beautiful man. Charisma flowed out of him”
ON capturedTHE SCENEthis early (clockwiseshot of Heathfrom top Ledgerleft) Robert alongside Rosen fellow Aussie actor Jack Thompson at the 1999 AFI Awards; Nicole Kidman with her then-husband Tom Cruise in 1992; Elizabeth Hurley and Hugh Grant in 1994; that shot of Paul and Linda Mccartney; Cate Blanchett and Jerry Hall at a fashion event in 2000.
LE LENS OF TIME (from(fr left) Meat Loaf an and Olivia NewtonJo John in 1991; a lo loved-up Michael H Hutchence and Kylie M Minogue at his 30th b birthday in 1990.
Glitterati: Shooting Fashion, Fame & Fortune by Robert Rosen is out now, $79.99; newhollandpublishers.com.