The dead spirit of a shot

[“What do you think killed Gia?” – it is asked in a documentary. The answer is pretty obvious: shooting. Every type of shooting. And each time a little bit more.]


Gia Carangi (1960-1986) in Vogue magazine, November 1978.

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«Gia goes on to confess that getting into the spirit of a shoot hasn’t always been easy.»

«You gotta get into it. You gotta feel the guy who’s shooting and know what he wants.»

«At the end of a long day’s shooting, Gia usually tries to forget everything and just go home and flop out in bed.»

«Gia smiles and shakes her shoulders as the last cut [from Blondie, “Living In The Real World“, 1979] blares (…):
“Every day you’ve go to wake up
Disappear behind your makeup (…)
You can look through the glass
and take a photograph (…)
I can do anything at all
I’m invisible and I’m twenty feet tall (…)
Hey, I’m livin’ in a magazine,
Page to page in my teenage dream (…)
Cause I’m not livin’ in the real world,
I’m not livin’ in the real world”».

– Gia, interview by Maury Z. Levy in “Philladelphia” magazine, January 1980.

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«You have to be a magician and make it work. Sometimes I’ve felt like running out of a shoot – I had to contain myself – but the pictures turned out nice. Often the idea that you don’t look good is all in your head.»

«Old friends look at you differently. They don’t see you as their sixth grade chum, they see you as an ideal of fashion. It’s hard to live up to that image. When I get out of work, I throw on a t-shirt, jeans and my sneaks just to get back down to earth. I want a job where I can be out of the limelight making things happen, possibly cinematography.»

– Gia, interview by Lisa Interollo in “Cosmopolitan”, April 1982.

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«You know, I thank God that I’m good looking or that people think I am good-looking. But there’s a lot more to it than make-up and prettiness and all that stuff. There’s a lot more to being a woman than that.»

– Gia, interview in Francesco Scavullo, “Scavullo Women”, New York: Harper and Row, 1982.

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«When you’re young, you don’t always… it’s hard to make the difference between what is real and what is not real. There’s a lot of vultures around you.»

– Gia, interview in “20-20“, ABC TV, January 6, 1983.

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«The model is a commodity. (…) It’s not just models. It’s editors, photographers, hair and make-up… That’s the nature of the business. (…) Everything for the picture»

– Harry King, hair stylist, in “An American girl: The self-destruction of Gia” (2003) by J.J. Martin, 00:38:00.

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«Her career soared like a star shooting in the night sky.»

«At the end of a day’s shooting she often went back to her empty New York apartment.»

«At one major magazine shoot an editor supplied Gia with a bag of cocaine and some heroin on the set.»

«… models now shoot heroin under their toenails or tongue, where track marks cannot be detected.»

«What changed was that Gia started going directly from $10,000-a-day fashion shoots to the heroin shooting galleries on New York’s Lower East Side.»

«She had, said her agent, Wilhelmina Cooper, “a fantastically pliable face”; she could be really sophisticated in one shooting and be a real Lolita type in another».

– “Gia: The tragic tale of the world’s first supermodel“, Independent, 09/09/2005.

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«People look at me and they think I’m this beautiful thing and I must be extremely hot… and what they don’t know is that I’m extremely boring.»

«[Maurice Tannenbaum:] She seemed used to being abused because she was so beautiful. And she became very hardened to that. (…) She loved kids — because they were pure and going to love her for the right reasons.»

«Gia hated the business from the beginning. She felt like a piece of meat. I know it’s an old cliché, but that’s what she always said. She just wasn’t cut out for the business, she was too sensitive for it. In the beginning she would do a lot of tests, which are free shootings for your portfolio, and then you take the portfolio around to the thousands of photographers in the city. And they’re very coldhearted when they look through your book. They flip through it while you’re standing right there.»

«[Francesco Scavullo:] When I first worked with her I said: “Oh my God, this is like a new Colt.” (…) It was a challenge to photograph her, to follow her. There are very few models who experiment like that and do it well.»

«… girls who were beautiful without makeup or expensive clothes being made up and dressed up to entice women to buy a range of products promising to make them, if not beautiful, then at least ‘attractive’.»

«Gia’s mother came to visit her in New York as often as she could, often coming in to do the laundry. (…) “She would tell me all the stuff that most women want to know about models… which one had hips that went on forever, which one had the pimpIes, which one did Quaaludes to get the starry looks in her eyes, which one was a real dog. (…) Jack Nicholson tried to get her to meet him in his room. I was in New York that week. I was making slipcovers for her sofa and she came back from this party and she said, ‘Can you believe it, I just turned down Jack Nicholson?’. Still, I worried because I knew how fragile she was and I had this vision of her becoming this Marilyn Monroe type.»

«According to Rothchild and Gia’s stepfather Henry Sperr, who prepared her taxes, Gia made more than $100,000 a year during her first two full years of modeling. And that figure was artificially low for several reasons. (…) She was doing mostly editorial work and covers, which were good for exposure and prestige but paid lower than advertising or catalog work. And two of the economic revolutions that changed the modeling business in the late ’70s hadn’t quite taken hold yet. John Casablancas had just opened his upstart Elite agency, which would eventually bring new heights of flash, trash and cash to the industry, sending maximum fees through the roof. And a new rate structure of bonus fees was just coming into use; instead of the traditional one-time-only payment, models were beginning to get residuals every time a picture was reused. That meant that a single day’s work could be worth up to $18,000. A Wilhelmina spokesman told one magazine writer that Gia was expected to make closer to $500,000 in 1980, her third year.»

«A new kind of celebrity was born: the Beautiful Person. And the easiest way to be a Beautiful Person was to be part of the world that created works of professional, marketable beauty: the models, photographers, makeup artists, clothing designers. (…) “China Brown,” as this heroin was called, was brought to the Beautiful People as something to smoke or snort when cocaine was either no longer a thrill or so much of a thrill that a “down” was necessary. (…) …a generation of accidental junkies was born.»

«”Those days everyone had this idea that being a junkie was very glamorous“, Mudd Club DJ Anita Sarka said in a recent Vanity Fair article. (…) “Bowie looked like a junkie, Iggy [Pop] looked like a junkie, Lou Reed looked like a junkie, Sid Vicious was a junkie, so they all wanted to be junkies. (…) Gia regaled friends with stories of nights out with Hansen and her boyfriend Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger and David Bowie and impressed her brother Michael with tales of taking drugs with members of the Rolling Stones and Blondie».

«Her problem didn’t keep her from spending her 20th birthday in Paris doing shots for Vogue. And it didn’t keep her from traveling to St. Barts with Scavullo, Patti Hansen, Way Bandy, Harry King and Polly Mellen for a weeklong shoot that would produce some of the best editorial work of her career. Scavullo assistant Sean Byrnes remembers finding Gia’s drugs during the boat ride to St. Barts and throwing them overboard. “She got hysterical,” he recalls. “She was ready to leave. But she stayed and the pictures were gorgeous.”»

«…she was interviewed by Scavullo for his book on beautiful women. (…) She explained that the reason she had turned to drugs was that (…) “for me to be doing drugs made me just as bad as I thought society was… the world seems to be based on money and sex. And I’m looking for better things than that, like happiness and love and caring…”»

«Before more serious drug treatment, she went to celebrity doctor Robert Giller, who had developed a high profile by treating Scavullo and Bianca and Baryshnikov and Liza for various health problems. Dr. Giller (who didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview for this story) tried to wean Gia off heroin with a diet regimen and vitamin B-12 shots. Gia was also seeing a Manhattan dentist who was giving her questionable prescriptions for the painkiller Percodan.»

«The stories of her going to Harlem or down to Avenue A to the scuzziest of shooting galleries were swirling through the photography studios. (…) Monique Pillard at Elite blamed New York itself: “New York was sort of a relapse for this girl».

«She’d go down to these shooting galleries with $10,000 in her shoe.»

«As part of the therapy, she drew a large mural depicting herself carrying a cross, floating somewhere between the earth and the sun. Her face had one weeping eye, a Bowie-esque lightning bolt, a question mark and stitches on her skull. In her chest was a broken heart and a small black swastika. On her arms were needle marks; on her genital area were male and female stick figures. Next to the figure she listed the themes that the drawing — and her therapy — sought to address: “confusion, hate, separation, frustration, growing pains, sexual abuse, mental abuse, helplessness, love.”»

«[Gia’s mother:] “She was kind of huffy with me,” Kathleen recalls, “and I said, ‘Don’t you understand that I had to say no?’ She said, ‘Maybe you should’ve done it before — this is the first time you ever said no to me.’ (…) She wanted to go to Disneyland

– Quotes from “Thing of Beauty” by Stephen Fried (Gia’s biographer) “Philladelphia” magazine, February 29, 2008.


One of Gia last shots (source)

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