(Reuters) - When Eric Gaillard first went to photograph the Cannes Film Festival in 1981, it was a smaller, more intimate affair - the kind of place where you could see the greats from Hollywood's Golden Age like Lauren Bacall or Ava Gardner wandering alone on the esplanade or having fun on the beach without bodyguards.
Returning for his 40th time, Gaillard finds a different beast - larger, more multicultural, with more restrictions on where photographers can stand to try and get that viral snap or capture that moment when a movie star gets caught off-guard sharing an intimate smile, striking a goofy pose, or having a bad hair day.
The 76th edition of the festival, taking place from May 16 to May 27, has seen Cannes' usual population triple to 230,000 people to watch films, rub shoulders with celebrities and - in some cases - compete for the coveted Palme D'Or.
Gaillard, who is retiring after this festival, was there for Reuters, snapping Michael Douglas pointing at the camera with a cheeky grin and a besuited Harrison Ford receiving an Honorary Palme D'Or.
He was there in 1997 when Michael Jackson was in attendance, in 2008 when Diego Maradona showed off soccer tricks, and in 2018 when Kristen Stewart kicked off her heels on the red carpet.
A shot from the 48th edition of the festival in 1995 shows a disarmingly young Johnny Depp, while a black-and-white photo from 1987 depicts a tanned, bejeweled Liz Taylor with one-time flame George Hamilton.
More recent photos show cinemagoers wearing masks (the festival was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic but came back the following year with restrictions), increasing numbers of women among the phalanxes of photographers, and attendees using phones to create their own social media posts.
But the essential glamour and fascination of the occasion has not changed - for the stars, or for the journalists. Cannes is, says Gaillard, "an incredible experience."
(Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Richard Chang)