In the 80s, a time before Photoshop and plastic surgeons offered picture perfect complexions, masking even the slightest imperfections, Johnny Rozsa captured the flawless features of Hollywood’s fresh crop of celebrity beauty. Rozsa captures pristine beauty and the exuberance of 115 stars before they were famous, and shows us what they were like before they began following the plan for eternal youth, an elixir of Botox, surgical procedures, and editorial support in the form of computer generated beauty.
From Hugh Grant to Halle Berry, Janet Jackson to Nicholas Cage, John Malkovich to Natasha Richardson, with a special section dedicated the gay legends including Leigh Bowery, Quentin Crisp, and Divine, Untouched (Glitterati Incorporated), captures the era’s most enduring icons at a time where ingénues rubbed shoulders with luminaries like Charlton Heston, Jane Russell, Joan Collins, Dolly Parton, and Tina Turner.
Rebelling against the paparazzi’s obsession with capturing unflattering shots that compromise the integrity of celebrities to increase sales to a snark-fueled populace, Rozsa’s work pays tribute to the old school Hollywood model of glamour. Be it Rick James or Robert Mitchum, Aretha Franklin or Muhammad Ali, Mariah Carey or Sade, Rozsa’s camera captures all the glitter and glitz of fame, beauty, and celebrity style during the 80s.
Born and raised in Nairobi, Johnny Rozsa spent his earliest years in a beautiful and remote country where every day was an adventure. “Living in Kenya made me curious,” he observes in his introduction to Untouched (Glitterati Incorporated), a collection of celebrity portraiture. He arrived in London in the 1960s and, after college, ran a vintage shop in Covent Garden where he met fashion editors, models, actors, and photographers on a daily basis. Making the rounds at all the parties, Rozsa hobnobbed with the likes of Ian McKellen, Leigh Bowery, and John Galliano while setting off on his own journey as a portrait photographer.
Rozsa recalls, “When I was a teenager I painted. I enjoyed the texture of oil paints and painted almost every day from the age of 15 until I turned 20. In Nairobi, I had several solo exhibitions and sold quite a few paintings, which were mostly of faces, with big eyes, long lashes, and big pouty feminine lips—and that was just the men!
“I loathed filling in backgrounds because they were so time consuming, and often wished I had an assistant to do the boring bits! I studied Communications at College in London and it helped me develop the ability to connect with other people and to comprehend the immense power of journalism, of radio and television.
“When I discovered the instant moment of taking a photograph and the speed in which to develop it in a darkroom I was hooked! I poured over glossy magazines and started to collect big photo books by the photographic masters, and the fashion greats. I never trained as a photographer, and as a result felt a little ‘less than’ so I practiced with light until I understood it.
“I observe well and I listen even better. I am always polite and respectful, and I worship at the shrine of “beauty” so my intentions are always to make celebrities as beautiful as they can be. I think most people react well to that! Luckily I had a few friends who were actors, and just took their photographs.
“I am interested in people. Actually, I am interested in loads of things, animals, plants, geography. But a person’s face—their eyes—fascinate me. It could be an old tribeswoman in Namibia or it could be Jessica Alba. Everyone has a story, and apart from capturing a mini second of their lives, their time with me, I like to engage them and hear their story.
“When I was living in Kenya, Andrea Dellal (photographed in Untouched with Arnold Schwartzenegger) came from London to shoot a catalogue for a British fashion enterprise. I thought of myself as the new David Bailey and I wanted to carve out my own style, and I thought I should always use the most exotic models. And I did. Exotic was a theme in my fashion work. Living in London I felt I was being exotic by being associated with this dynamic Brazilian!
“Once I shot Andrea in Rio wearing two of Carmen Miranda’s film outfits on spec. I sold it to the Observer color magazine as a cover and double page spread. Happily Andrea and I are great friends to this day and usually spend Christmas and New Years together with her four children.
“I have an open mind. I usually wait until they turn up to the studio or location, chat to them while scanning their face, their body, and then, on the spur of the moment, while they are getting their hair done, I set up lights and backgrounds. I am a person that tries to live in the present moment.
“I am an optimist. I am flexible. If someone believes that his or her left side is their more photogenic side, I go with that and then try to encourage them to break out of a mold that really is in their own head, if I see that they can look interesting from a different angle. My shoots are usually happy and fun. People tend to relax around me and open up with stories about themselves. I listen and converse and am interested in them and I think people feel comfortable that way.
“My ideal and favorite way to photograph someone is in a studio with lights, beautiful clothes, warmth and food and drinks! My style is usually clean sharp and uncluttered, with my subject being the focus of the image. Photography is an art, too. There are so many elements that one has to have knowledge about: fashion; the history of fashion; a sense of color, a sense of shape and composition; lighting—hard or soft, indoor and outdoor; make up and hair; the history of photography. I could go on!
“I have always striven to create a team. I crave to work with the best hairdresser, make up artist, stylist, and set dresser on every shoot that I do. Most of the ones I worked with on this book have passed away and it makes me truly sad that their talent has often disappeared. Ray Petrie was a great visionary stylist, whose book is still inspirational today even though it has been years since his passing. Paul Starr was an amazing make up artist in LA who brought out the best in an actors face.
““The late, great Ray Allington became a star Hollywood hairdresser. He trained in the Vidal Sassoon stable in London and as youngsters we tested with models and worked together as often as possible for over 25 years. His hair and presence at a shoot always added to the final goal of a photo session—the photograph itself. My favorite collaborator was Stevie Hughes. His make up enhanced every face he worked on. He was the most talented man I have ever worked with. He could sew, do hair and was a brilliant cook too. Everything he touched turned to gold. I miss him dreadfully, as he died early on in the AIDS era and never had a chance, as I have, to curate his work.
“There is a simplicity and a realness to my images. I revere and respect my subjects, and I do think that humor and a sense of wit and fun add to my images. I have a sense of history too, which all blends, like a braid, to create this book of which I am proud.”
The Jackson Five