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January 17th, 2001 Byron Beck | Visual Arts
 

Faux-tography

Glamour whore Gary Lee Boas has spent his life shooting at the stars

     
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Somewhere between paparazzi and stalker lies the glamour whore. A unique breed within the species known as Loserius americanus , these wannabe Eve Harringtons will do just about anything to be within spitting distance of a famous person.

Not everyone can be a glamour whore; it takes a certain amount of skill. First, you must give up any notion that you have something that resembles a real life. Second, you must be completely obsessed with all things celebrity. Third, and most important, you must be willing to sell out your family and friends for even the slightest sliver of gossipy dish.

Personally, I was born with a weird (some might say sick) sixth sense when it comes to celebrities. It's like I can smell them--even several blocks away. It's as if the whole world changes when a celebrity is near me. I swear the air around me begins to crackle, the ground begins to quiver and, BAM!, all of sudden I'm standing in the middle of Pier One Imports next to Dee Wallace Stone. That's why I identify so much with Gary Lee Boas.

A glamour whore of the highest order, Boas has spent the better part of his life pursuing personalities. Ever since his post-Kennedy teen years (he was born near Philadelphia--home of The Mike Douglas Show), Boas has waited patiently outside the theaters and cafes of the rich and famous in the hope of getting the fleeting chance to capture the image of a living, breathing star.

You can view for yourself Boas' life work/obsession at Powell's Basil Hallward Gallery. The bookstore is housing a rotating exhibit of photographs from Boas' extensive collection through the end of February.

But don't go to the show expecting to see the craftsmanship of a polished photog. This is the work of a self-proclaimed amateur. It's clear Boas never tried to use anything more than a cheap Instamatic camera and the eagerness of a born sycophant to get near his target.

But even with Boas' half-assed attempts at snapping a shutter, his clique clicks are unprofessional to the point of genius--a true naïve artist. His images are often a blurry mess of poor lighting, weird crops and easy-to-fix goofs. But that's where the beauty lies. This brilliant and intriguing paradox comes from the fact that Boas seemed to worship each and every one of his subjects. His work has become the disco years' equivalent of the Book of Saints. Just look at the photo of a beatifically chubby Elizabeth Taylor wearing a smile and a halo of streetlights, and ask yourself: Is there something sacred going on here?

In the early '90s, I was employed by one of Portland's "premier" publications. One of my various duties was to shoot the mugs of the social elite and the famous folk who traveled through Portland. I shot everyone from Margaret Thatcher to Michael Jordan to Jimmy "Dy-no-mite!" Walker with nothing more than a silly point-and-shoot camera. Like Boas, I couldn't be bothered with learning the complex techniques of photography. All I knew was that I wanted to get near famous folks. That's why I think Boas succeeds. To the naked eye, it appears that all he ever wanted to do with his beloved photos, like a batch of well-thumbed pornography, was enjoy them.

The way the images are ingeniously paired along the gallery walls hint at how Boas broke through the nearly impenetrable wall of showbiz. For example, glancing at the way both Ryan O'Neal and Donald Sutherland stare back at the lens of the untrained looky-loo, you see how each of these cellulords was willing to drop his guard long enough to allow Boas to see a real person. Likewise the pairings of Ali and Ah-nuld, fur-laden divas La Streisand and Queen Aretha, and Jackie O and JFK Jr. show that particular legends never, ever turn off their "star power" when they're under the public's piercing gaze.

But what I love most about these photos--and what I think takes them out of the realm of mere snapshots--is that each one has an incredible sense of urgency. There's nothing like watching how a star goes to and fro, working the sidewalk the entire time. It's a true art form, and the oldies, like Ginger Rogers and Ann Miller, really knew how to do it.

Those days are gone, of course. All the crazies have made sure of it. But through Boas' work, at least for a little while, you can revisit a time when stars were nothing more than legends and a fan could be just a nice mamma's boy from Pennsylvania in need of a little stardust.

 
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