From the archive
A look back at the Observer Magazine’s past
For the Observer Magazine of 28 September 1980, the novelist Anthony Burgess writes about ‘snatched photos’ – or paparazzi shots – of the famous by the French photographers Daniel Angeli and Jean-Paul Dousset for their book Private Pictures.
‘Stars without their glitter’ is the headline and Burgess does his best to revel in them being taken down from their exalted positions and put in the gutter. ‘These photographs do not pretend to be art,’ he writes. ‘They are cruel but they are corrective.’ More high-mindedly, they are a reminder that ‘even myths are mortal’.
Burgess is in a long line of writers stretching back to Aristophanes and more recently the scandal sheets of the early 20th century in their cynicism towards authority and celebrity, here deploying the broadsheet trick of analysing the cultural meaning of fame while printing the lurid pictures, too. And so we have a topless Brigitte Bardot in 1973, Elton John at the pool in St Tropez in 1979, and – altogether more disturbingly – a picture captioned: ‘Roman Polanski with teenage girls in St Tropez (1978).’ It’s unedifying, too, when he bemoans the state of Marlene Dietrich, pictured on the street in Paris, ‘very old and very ordinary’, and her ‘shell of glamour’.
‘An unbecoming posture of the body, a grotesque movement of the mouth, a graceless gesture, can be caught by the photographer and cancel out a whole legend.’ Anyone else thinking of poor Ed Miliband eating that bacon sandwich in 2014?
The photographers, Burgess concludes, ‘want to remind us that fame and wealth do not transfigure, they debase’. But sounding like Alex in his novel A Clockwork Orange, he urges: ‘Give your sadism full play: relish what lies within here.’ In so doing, he uncomfortably turns the camera on us, the complicit viewer.