The photographs are similar to what you would find in a well-worn shoebox at the bottom of your mother's closet — worn, simple, straightforward.
But they're photographs with a difference. American Gary Lee Boas, widely described in the press as a geek, dedicated the better part of 15 years of his life to taking them.
He amassed a collection of more than 50,000 celebrity pictures and is now being given attention in the art world. His work can currently be seen in an exhibit, "Gary Lee Boas: Starstruck" at London's Photographers' Gallery.
His work has also been published in a book, also called Starstruck. The group of celebrities is a democratic and diverse one — Katherine Hepburn, Mohammed Ali, Lucille Ball, Henry Kissinger, Bianca Jagger, and several Miss Americas can be found among the images he has amassed.
Just Like Ordinary People
The pictures are impromptu and often catch celebrities at their most genuine. Without the time to pose and primp, celebrities greet the camera in a brief, untouched moment where they often look anything but famous.
In fact, they often look just like "ordinary people" — their poses, expressions, and what they are doing in these pictures are not at all different from what you would see if they had indeed been found in a family shoebox of pictures.
Shirley MacLaine laughs to herself; a side profile of Sophia Loren shows her gazing fondly at someone off-camera; Louis Armstrong enjoys a quiet cigarette; Elizabeth Taylor calmly watches the outside world from the window of her limousine.
These photos do not evoke or imitate Herb Ritts, Annie Leibowitz or other well-known and critically acclaimed celebrity chroniclers.
However, many have noticed that his pictures do have a certain charm to them. "Technical finesse isn't really a consideration: he took most of the shots on his Box Brownie," noted Britain's The Independent. "There is an unquestionable magic about the pictures, founded not only on the days, weeks and hours they took to amass, but the era that they map out."
An Era Over but Not Forgotten
The pictures encapsulate an era from 1966 to 1980. The sometimes grainy pictures capture the fashions, hairstyles and poses of the rich and famous over almost 30 years.
For younger viewers of the exhibit, it is a chance to see some favorites before they were so famous. Candice Bergen, pre-Murphy Brown, is caught at a cocktail party; a young Jack Nicholson puts on a scarf.
Boas catches all the major players in Saturday Night Live over the years — Gilda Radner, Steve Martin, and Chevy Chase — when they were transformed from unknowns to major stars.
The exhibition also displays some of the top popular music acts of the era including The Village People and Davy Jones from The Monkees.
It also offers a reminder of those who have since passed away — John Belushi, John Wayne, Grace Kelly, and George Burns — caught when they were very much alive.
"For some visitors it has provoked a nostalgic and emotional response," said Camilla Jackson, curator of the exhibit.
Welcomed by His Celebrity Subjects
Boas' work ends in 1980, the year Beatle John Lennon was shot by an obsessed fan. What Watergate did for the press and politics, this assassination may have done for celebrities and their fans.
Before this, celebrities were much more comfortable with fans approaching them — and there was not always an overwhelming gang of bodyguards to block their way.