Documentary Photography, September 7-28, 2013
Opening Night Reception: September 7, 7-9 pm
“Benno is a lot of fun, but he’s always got a camera in his hand,” President John Kennedy warned Clint Hill, assigned to the First Lady’s Secret Service. The President was concerned images of Jackie taken on holiday by her friend “Benno” would feature too many glasses of wine or skimpy bathing suits. Kennedy’s description suited Gilbert “Benno” Graziani (b.1923). Indeed, it fit most photo-journalists like Graziani working for French celebrity-and-news magazine Paris-Match. With a post-WWII zest for life, theywere known to be gregarious, charming, adventurous, even daredevilish and, yes, fun.
In its West Coast premier, Jackie et moi, at drkrm Gallery, represents Graziani’s privileged peek into the intimate sphere of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Twenty-two black and white prints beautifully curated by John Matkowsky offer perspectives new to even the most avid Jackie devotee.
A man about town, Benno joined Paris Match in 1949, drawn to the publication’s high life.. Generously bankrolled by the magazine, photographers opened the doors of access by being able to rub elbows with European royalty and with Hollywood starlets. Hobnobbing with military higher-ups garnered a colleague a coveted pass in Vietnam to Hanoi’s restricted war zones. Meeting Jackie (then Bouvier) as a young American photo-journalist for the Washington Times Herald one day, meant Benno was invited on holiday with First Lady Jackie Kennedy the next.
Paris Match photographers had swagger. Graziani and his colleagues mightbe seen as precursors to today’s paparazzi. But nothing could be further from today’s aggressive, in-your-face shutterbugging complete with scuffles with celebrities, or worse, the death of a princess, than Benno’s way of working.
Graziani was comfortable running in Jacqueline Kennedy’s social set, and the images in the revelatory exhibition Jackie et moi excel at showing it. Benno took the “snaps” only a family insider might take, if the insider happened to be on a par with Mario Testino. There are prints on display from trips where Graziani joined Jackie and her sister, Lee Radziwell, on holiday to the Amalfi coast and a visit to India. Others feature casual moments in the White House.
Matkowsky’s show gives us the rarely seen unofficial Jackie. In one image she’s sitting on the ground leaning against a wall; lost in contemplation – the glimpse of her thigh and her bare feet are far more intimate than any Jackie bathing suit photos.
Today, one imagines celebrities having two sets of photos: the ones taken by paparazzi and the ones they keep. The Jackie et moi pictures are the photos normally tucked away in the private family album.
The photos in Jackie et moi were taken by an artist who was also a friend. drkrm’s exhibition implies as much about the paparazzi’s pursuit of the prize as they say about Jackie and “moi.” For Benno Graziani, photography always remained the pursuit of pleasure.
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