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Are Paparazzi the Best Investigative Photojournalists?

by John Bennet –

Paparazzi don’t have a great rep in this business. Indeed they are largely viewed by “real” photojournalists as little more than talentless and unprincipled camera-monkeys. But isn’t this just elitism?

It’s time we took a more balanced look at this much-maligned branch of photojournalism. Join us as we critically reappraise the paparazzo’s skills for seeking out a story. And delivering it.

 

It’s Not All Glamor

So you spent 5 years documenting the plight of a forgotten community caught in the crossfire of violent civil unrest? You built up an amazing level of trust and empathy with your informants to get unparalleled access to the story? You won a Pulitzer Prize for your bravery in documenting the horrors of war?

Pah!

That’s all very well, but can you capture Leonardo DiCaprio’s double chin from an angle that makes him look truly porcine? Or better still, how about some lobster pink naked sunbathing shots on a private beach? Or a romantic indiscretion between costarring movie actors? Bingo!

It takes genuine talent to become a good paparazzo. And it takes a really long lens and a total lack of morals in order to become a truly great paparazzo!

No, really, credit where it’s due. Bracketing out the dodgy ethics for a moment, paparazzi don’t have an easy job of it. And only those with a nose for a good story; an inquiring mind; and the perseverance to hang out in a parking lot drinking Red Bull for 14 hours straight will hit paparazzo gold: Kardashian cellulite, or A-list sweaty armpit.

While a few top snappers such as Ron Galella or the Italian Rino Barillari have become celebrities in their own right, for most the reality is less glamorous: long dreary nights parked  in a cloud of your own flatulence on the off-chance that one of the Jenners might be in the vicinity. Only for the tip-off to turn out a non-starter.

Indeed, for every “pap” who made it big, there are likely hundreds of greasy-haired, yellow-toothed sleazebags still staked-out by the back door hoping for the “money shot” (in all its senses).

To be sure, a paparazzo’s lot is not an easy one: bracing the disapproving looks of neighbors as you loiter outside a star’s home for the fourth day in a row. Risking life and limb to shin up a drainpipe in the hope of gaining a more advantageous viewpoint. Dashing down the street laden with heavy cameras when you realize that your quarry snuck out the back while you were dozing. Facing physical violence at the hands of the disgruntled celebs or their minders when you do catch up.

 

The Art of Deception

Although some good photos will come from tip-offs, if you’re regularly to get good leads this method requires establishing a wide network of reliable contacts and informants. So while paparazzi may universally enjoy the reputation of despicable vermin, you can be sure that the more successful ones are actually very well-liked (or at least very well-tolerated) human beings with excellent communication skills.

But of course, just because you can find out roughly where and when a celeb might show up doesn’t mean you’ll get the shot. In fact, following through on a lead often requires a level of investigative shrewdness that would rival that of even the most talented private detectives.

For a start you’ve got to have sharp wits and a good understanding of human psychology. Not only to anticipate the behavior of your prey, but also in order to outmaneuver the competition: i.e. other equally cunning members of your profession who are all hustling for the same photos.

To be sure, making it as a paparazzo requires considerable guile and resourcefulness. Sure, if you’re lucky, some shots can be got just by speculatively “doorstepping” outside a star’s home until your target shows up. But this is a rookie tactic. Shooting in the dark. The real pros know that they will need to dig a lot deeper if they want to come up with something truly sensational.

For example, a more lucrative scoop may call for some real detective work; talking to the right people; making some clever phone calls. Lying profusely,

And you better be prepared to do some serious sweet talking if you want to get into an off-limits location. But even then, there’s no guarantee the celeb is going to break cover, so perhaps you’ll also need to create a diversion in order to lure the unsuspecting target out into view.

Glasses, hats, wigs, and false beards are all to be found in the professional pap’s kit-bag. And the level of charm, subterfuge, and downright deceit employed by some of the more cut-throat celeb-snappers would be welcomed with open arms by the HR departments of shadowy secret service organizations worldwide.

Of course, it also helps if you have absolutely no sense of personal dignity: hiding in trash cans is a fairly common tactic among hardcore members of the profession.

These may all seem like highly questionable practices, but what’s an honest jobbing paparazzo to do when devious celebs resort to such extreme methods as hiding inside a suitcase to avoid being photographed?

https://eu.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2018/11/15/taylor-swift-did-hide-suitcase-zayn-malik-claims-british-vogue/2011232002/

 

A Charm Offensive

It’s not all sneaky tactics though. And unlike more antisocial photographers skulking around behind their long lenses, some of the best paparazzi use their charisma to develop a good relationship not only with informants, but directly with the stars themselves.

If a celebrity is serious about their career, and wants to maintain their position in the public eye, they may take advantage of the paparazzi as much as the photographers take advantage of them. As a paparazzo, it can work out highly lucrative if you’ve possess the people-skills to get a popular celebrity on your side; with celebs effectively collaborating in order to control the kind of images they put out in public; and you raking in the dollars on the exclusives.

 

Hard Times

But veteran paparazzi complain that it isn’t like the old days anymore. It’s not only that the really big money’s gone, nor that a unique scoop is harder to come by when everyone and his dog has a camera in their smartphone.

No, now the real problem is that the celebrities often beat the paps to the shots themselves, releasing their own “revelatory” photos on social media or auctioning them off the highest bidder. Naturally, if you’ve just spent days lurking behind a dumpster trying to get a scandalous exposé, its commercial value will be somewhat diminished if the celebs announce the news themselves before you can.

There’s also considerable physical hardship and risk involved in papping: imagine you’ve just spent the last 3 nights camped out in the bushes on the off-chance that a bankable star might show up – only to be given a thorough kicking by their bodyguards when they finally do.

This isn’t just speculation: after Marlon Brando broke his jaw, Ron Galella took to wearing a crash helmet whenever he photographed the actor.

Meanwhile, Rino Barillari, who snapped the stars of Italy’s Dolce Vita (and is still at it today), boasts of “seventy-six smashed cameras, eleven broken ribs, and 164 ER visits.” Not to mention the gelato shoved in his face by an infuriated actress. Even hardened war photographers such as Tim Page or Don McCullin never had to deal with hazards of this kind.

The comparison with combat shooters isn’t coincidental though: from capturing the glamor of swinging Rome in its ’60s heyday, Barillari went on to document Italy’s “years of lead.” This was a time of social and political violence that saw numerous victims gunned down or killed in bombing campaigns orchestrated by extremists on both left and right.

However, Barillari’s shift to less frivolous subject matter shouldn’t come as a huge surprise: paparazzi receive perhaps the best general hands-on training of any photographer in the industry. Few others can compete with the quick-thinking, cunning, and skill required to pull off a front page celebrity splash.

Think about it: after decades of cat and mouse with photographers, celebrities are only too aware of the lengths the paparazzi will go to in order to get a scandalous shot. This has made stars much wiser, and harder to capture off-guard. So if you possess the sharp-wittedness, determination, and technical chops to shoot a celebrity image that will syndicate worldwide today, you’re pretty much ready for anything.

And as you only get one shot at capturing Sean Penn before he puts the boot in, your reflexes are probably pretty fast too!

 

Forget your grizzled hard-news veterans or battle-scarred combat photographers. Those guys wouldn’t know a good story if it went whizzing past their ears and ricocheted off a Humvee.

I mean, anyone can pull off a dramatic shot in a war zone: just show up with your camera and pretty soon someone will start breaking heads. Job done. But send James Nachtwey over to Portofino or St. Tropez and let’s see if he comes back with anything worth looking at.

Paparazzi don’t have a great rep in this business. Indeed they are largely viewed by “real” photojournalists as little more than talentless and unprincipled camera-monkeys. But isn’t this just elitism?

It’s time we took a more balanced look at this much-maligned branch of photojournalism. Join us as we critically reappraise the paparazzo’s skills for seeking out a story. And delivering it.

 

It’s Not All Glamor

So you spent 5 years documenting the plight of a forgotten community caught in the crossfire of violent civil unrest? You built up an amazing level of trust and empathy with your informants to get unparalleled access to the story? You won a Pulitzer Prize for your bravery in documenting the horrors of war?

Pah!

That’s all very well, but can you capture Leonardo DiCaprio’s double chin from an angle that makes him look truly porcine? Or better still, how about some lobster pink naked sunbathing shots on a private beach? Or a romantic indiscretion between costarring movie actors? Bingo!

It takes genuine talent to become a good paparazzo. And it takes a really long lens and a total lack of morals in order to become a truly great paparazzo!

No, really, credit where it’s due. Bracketing out the dodgy ethics for a moment, paparazzi don’t have an easy job of it. And only those with a nose for a good story; an inquiring mind; and the perseverance to hang out in a parking lot drinking Red Bull for 14 hours straight will hit paparazzo gold: Kardashian cellulite, or A-list sweaty armpit.

While a few top snappers such as Ron Galella or the Italian Rino Barillari have become celebrities in their own right, for most the reality is less glamorous: long dreary nights parked  in a cloud of your own flatulence on the off-chance that one of the Jenners might be in the vicinity. Only for the tip-off to turn out a non-starter.

Indeed, for every “pap” who made it big, there are likely hundreds of greasy-haired, yellow-toothed sleazebags still staked-out by the back door hoping for the “money shot” (in all its senses).

To be sure, a paparazzo’s lot is not an easy one: bracing the disapproving looks of neighbors as you loiter outside a star’s home for the fourth day in a row. Risking life and limb to shin up a drainpipe in the hope of gaining a more advantageous viewpoint. Dashing down the street laden with heavy cameras when you realize that your quarry snuck out the back while you were dozing. Facing physical violence at the hands of the disgruntled celebs or their minders when you do catch up.

 

The Art of Deception

Although some good photos will come from tip-offs, if you’re regularly to get good leads this method requires establishing a wide network of reliable contacts and informants. So while paparazzi may universally enjoy the reputation of despicable vermin, you can be sure that the more successful ones are actually very well-liked (or at least very well-tolerated) human beings with excellent communication skills.

But of course, just because you can find out roughly where and when a celeb might show up doesn’t mean you’ll get the shot. In fact, following through on a lead often requires a level of investigative shrewdness that would rival that of even the most talented private detectives.

For a start you’ve got to have sharp wits and a good understanding of human psychology. Not only to anticipate the behavior of your prey, but also in order to outmaneuver the competition: i.e. other equally cunning members of your profession who are all hustling for the same photos.

To be sure, making it as a paparazzo requires considerable guile and resourcefulness. Sure, if you’re lucky, some shots can be got just by speculatively “doorstepping” outside a star’s home until your target shows up. But this is a rookie tactic. Shooting in the dark. The real pros know that they will need to dig a lot deeper if they want to come up with something truly sensational.

For example, a more lucrative scoop may call for some real detective work; talking to the right people; making some clever phone calls. Lying profusely,

And you better be prepared to do some serious sweet talking if you want to get into an off-limits location. But even then, there’s no guarantee the celeb is going to break cover, so perhaps you’ll also need to create a diversion in order to lure the unsuspecting target out into view.

Glasses, hats, wigs, and false beards are all to be found in the professional pap’s kit-bag. And the level of charm, subterfuge, and downright deceit employed by some of the more cut-throat celeb-snappers would be welcomed with open arms by the HR departments of shadowy secret service organizations worldwide.

Of course, it also helps if you have absolutely no sense of personal dignity: hiding in trash cans is a fairly common tactic among hardcore members of the profession.

These may all seem like highly questionable practices, but what’s an honest jobbing paparazzo to do when devious celebs resort to such extreme methods as hiding inside a suitcase to avoid being photographed?

https://eu.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2018/11/15/taylor-swift-did-hide-suitcase-zayn-malik-claims-british-vogue/2011232002/

 

A Charm Offensive

It’s not all sneaky tactics though. And unlike more antisocial photographers skulking around behind their long lenses, some of the best paparazzi use their charisma to develop a good relationship not only with informants, but directly with the stars themselves.

If a celebrity is serious about their career, and wants to maintain their position in the public eye, they may take advantage of the paparazzi as much as the photographers take advantage of them. As a paparazzo, it can work out highly lucrative if you’ve possess the people-skills to get a popular celebrity on your side; with celebs effectively collaborating in order to control the kind of images they put out in public; and you raking in the dollars on the exclusives.

 

Hard Times

But veteran paparazzi complain that it isn’t like the old days anymore. It’s not only that the really big money’s gone, nor that a unique scoop is harder to come by when everyone and his dog has a camera in their smartphone.

No, now the real problem is that the celebrities often beat the paps to the shots themselves, releasing their own “revelatory” photos on social media or auctioning them off the highest bidder. Naturally, if you’ve just spent days lurking behind a dumpster trying to get a scandalous exposé, its commercial value will be somewhat diminished if the celebs announce the news themselves before you can.

There’s also considerable physical hardship and risk involved in papping: imagine you’ve just spent the last 3 nights camped out in the bushes on the off-chance that a bankable star might show up – only to be given a thorough kicking by their bodyguards when they finally do.

This isn’t just speculation: after Marlon Brando broke his jaw, Ron Galella took to wearing a crash helmet whenever he photographed the actor.

Meanwhile, Rino Barillari, who snapped the stars of Italy’s Dolce Vita (and is still at it today), boasts of “seventy-six smashed cameras, eleven broken ribs, and 164 ER visits.” Not to mention the gelato shoved in his face by an infuriated actress. Even hardened war photographers such as Tim Page or Don McCullin never had to deal with hazards of this kind.

The comparison with combat shooters isn’t coincidental though: from capturing the glamor of swinging Rome in its ’60s heyday, Barillari went on to document Italy’s “years of lead.” This was a time of social and political violence that saw numerous victims gunned down or killed in bombing campaigns orchestrated by extremists on both left and right.

However, Barillari’s shift to less frivolous subject matter shouldn’t come as a huge surprise: paparazzi receive perhaps the best general hands-on training of any photographer in the industry. Few others can compete with the quick-thinking, cunning, and skill required to pull off a front page celebrity splash.

Think about it: after decades of cat and mouse with photographers, celebrities are only too aware of the lengths the paparazzi will go to in order to get a scandalous shot. This has made stars much wiser, and harder to capture off-guard. So if you possess the sharp-wittedness, determination, and technical chops to shoot a celebrity image that will syndicate worldwide today, you’re pretty much ready for anything.

And as you only get one shot at capturing Sean Penn before he puts the boot in, your reflexes are probably pretty fast too!

Photo D.G.

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