Paparazzi photography has emerged as a key element in today's media landscape. This book charts the historical and cultural significance of the industry, profiles its protagonists and discusses how its imagery of celebrity have become a major part of media consumption. Kim McNamara examines the various ways in which the controversial Paparazzi industry is structured, including its workforce practices, development of image markets, and how it has been reconfigured during the transition from analogue paper-based photography to digital platforms. It adds to the literature on celebrity studies, unraveling the importance of the Paparazzi to celebrities, and the integral nature of images - both spontaneous and staged to public relations and marketing content. Based on interviews worldwide with key industry players, including agency managers, photo editors and photographers, from Los Angeles to London, the book argues that the Paparazzi should be given central importance in any analysis of media culture.
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The structure of the book
1 Paparazzi: A Genealogy
Italian paparazzi: Fellini’s Rome
1970s American paparazzi: Ron Galella
Tabloid culture and the British royal family
Britney, LiLo and Paris: The ‘gold rush’ in the 2000s in America
2 Paparazzi and Media Practices
Paparazzi and media work
Paparazzi as precarious labour
Celebrity geographies and paparazzi mobility
The celebrity circuit and the paparazzo’s daily routine
In position: camera work
The shot: what makes a good paparazzi photograph?
3 Agencies and Image Markets
The paparazzi agency
The rise of Getty Images
Speed and immediacy: analogue to digital photography
The role of the photo editor
Pricing the image
Citizen paparazzi and ubiquitous photography
4 Paparazzi and Celebrity News
Tabloidization and photojournalism
Entertainment news magazines: scandal, gossip and human interest
From print to online: the Perez Hilton phenomenon
Paparazzi agencies as entertainment news channels
Cross-platform convergence: the rise of TMZ and video paparazzi
5 Paparazzi and Photographic Genres
Paparazzi as art
Paparazzi as social portraiture
The influence of street photography
Celebrities, fashion and paparazzi
6 Celebrities, Photography and Privacy
The paparazzi and the law
Copyright battles and ‘star power’: do celebrities own their image?
Is pursuit and surveillance justifiable?
Should the source of photographs be regulated?
Should paparazzi be allowed to take photographs of celebrities’ children?
1.1 Paris Hilton exiting a shop in Beverly Hills
2.1 Ashley Olsen entering a car concealed by an umbrella
2.2 Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston shortly before their break-up was announced.
2.3 Halle Berry in front of a pack of paparazzi
2.4 Katy Perry in New York’s Chinatown
2.5 Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson at a restaurant, Manhattan
2.6 Angelina Jolie on a balcony in Venice with her son Knox
3.1 and 3.2 A comparison of two images of Jessica Alba shopping
3.3 Pitt, Jolie and family shot by a ‘citizen’ paparazzo in New York
3.4 Angelina Jolie and son Maddox shot in an Apple store, New York
4.1 Kim Kardashian shopping
4.2 Kim Kardashian on a beach with her nephew
5.1 Edgar Degas, Place de la Concorde (1875)
5.2 Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and their daughter Suri at a press junket
5.3 Sarah Jessica Parker on the red carpet
5.4 Sarah Jessica Parker photographed on the street
5.5 Rihanna arriving at an airport: a typical fashion shot
Copyright © Kim McNamara 2016
The right of Kim McNamara to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in 2016 by Polity Press
65 Bridge Street Cambridge CB2 1UR, UK
350 Main Street
Malden, MA 02148, USA
All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Paparazzi : media practices and celebrity culture / Kim McNamara.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-7456-5173-6 (hardback) -- ISBN 978-0-7456-5174-3 (paperback) 1.
Photojournalism. 2. Hidden camera photography. 3. Paparazzi. 4. Celebrities. 5. Popular culture. I. Title.
The publisher has used its best endeavours to ensure that the URLs for external websites referred to in this book are correct and active at the time of going to press. However, the publisher has no responsibility for the websites and can make no guarantee that a site will remain live or that the content is or will remain appropriate.
Every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the publisher will be pleased to include any necessary credits in any subsequent reprint or edition.
For further information on Polity, visit our website: politybooks.com
I have one of my PhD thesis reviewers, Nick Couldry, to thank for encouraging me to pursue the proposal idea for this book. I am very grateful for Nick’s help and insight both in our personal meetings and in his written ideas. Thanks also go to Nick for connecting me with Andrea Drugan at Polity. I thank her for her intelligence, thoughtfulness and patience. I am also grateful to the anonymous referees whose constructive comments have helped shape the book.
Appreciation and thanks also to Elen Griffiths and Neil de Cort at Polity, and to Helen Gray, for all their help.
Thank you to all the photographers, agency managers and photo editors I spoke with. I am grateful for their enthusiasm and trust. Although not all contacts I interviewed were quoted, every participant helped to create the conceptual ideas and historical mappings of the book. In particular, thank you to Chris Doherty of INF for permission to use the images in this book.
Heartfelt thanks to Michelle Momdjian, for draft-reading the manuscript and for her endless cheerleading, and to Carol McNeill, for all her love and support.
To my beautiful Mum and Dad, your love has always helped me. Thank you for everything.
And most of all, to Donald and Maya, my best friends. I love you. Thank you both for your patience, inspiration, cuddles and fun times. Spoibz.
A small amount of material in the book has been previously published.
Some sections of chapter 6 were first published in: McNamara, K. (2009), Publicizing Private Lives: Celebrities, Image Control, and the Reconfiguration of Public Space’, Social and Cultural Geography 10/1: 9–23.
Some sections of chapter 4 first appeared in: McNamara, K. (2011), ‘The Paparazzi Industry and New Media: The Evolving Production and Consumption of Celebrity News and Gossip Websites’, International Journal of Cultural Studies 14/5: 515–30.
The word ‘paparazzi’ often elicits strong reactions. Their popular reputation has them either skulking in bushes or crouching on balconies trying to take an invasive shot of a public figure; or else they are uncontrollable urban hooligans, charging down streets in crowds, or pursuing people in dangerous high-speed car chases. The industry is often seen as a male-dominated one, which at times becomes aggressive and frightening for the subjects. Finally, their output tends to be associated with some of the worst excesses of tabloid culture, sensationalism and triviality.
However, this stereotype of the paparazzi is one that needs to be revisited. My contention in the book is that paparazzi images have become of increasing importance within popular culture. They are a fascinating aspect of contemporary society – situated between conventional photographic practice, the economy of news production and society’s interest in celebrity (Chéroux 2014b). For example, for Carol Squiers, paparazzi photography ‘occupies a seemingly unique position outside the bounds of polite photography, defined by its self-admitted characteristics of aggression and stealthiness, narrow range of subjects, and elastic formal definitions of what constitutes a “good” picture’ (1999: 271).
This book is neither a coruscating attack on the paparazzi industry nor an apology for some of its wilder excesses. Instead, it seeks to throw light on one of the least understood elements of today’s global entertainment business. Paparazzi agencies and photographers are responsible for images that circulate worldwide, ranging from iconic shots of Hollywood movie stars, to barely noticed content filler for magazines and newspapers from Brazil to Australia, Italy to Canada. Where celebrities go, paparazzi are sure to follow close behind. Their constant mobility matches the often negative public perception of them as ‘fly-by-night’ or somehow shady.
To approach this as a research problem requires an engagement with the wider nature of celebrity and publicity, the industrial practices and work cultures of contemporary media work and the changing nature of photography as a commercial activity. Throughout the book, I bring three distinct fields together: the production of celebrity as an industry; the nature of contemporary journalism and media production as a practice; and the place of paparazzi within the various branches of the photography profession.
First, it is impossible to understand the nature of paparazzi without a grasp of celebrity as an industry. As scholars such as Gamson (1994) and Turner et al. (2000) have shown, this involves identifying the multiple agents who actively cultivate the recognizability of particular actors, politicians and sports stars. This ranges from celebrity stylists and the organizers of junkets, through to entertainment journalists and agents. Certainly, this was always part of the earlier Hollywood ‘star system’. But as Joshua Gamson argues in his book Claims to Fame, there has been a growing awareness among audiences of ‘the tremendously heightened self-consciousness about the systematic production of celebrity and celebrity images for commercial purposes’ (Gamson 1994: 48; Marshall 1997, 2006, 2014). For many armchair fans or celebrity watchers, the paparazzi are part and parcel of what celebrity is about (Bajac 2014).
In recent years, there have been a number of very high-profile court cases, ranging from those which revealed very genuine concerns about privacy intrusion (the phone-tapping scandal which engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World) to the more contestable (the legal battle over who, if anyone, owned the exclusive rights to images of the wedding of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas), or even laughable (Barbra Streisand’s ill-advised attempt to bar geological survey aerial photography which included her property). It was well known in gossip circles and the industry that celebrities varied significantly in their opinions and behaviour towards paparazzi, with many enjoying a degree of rapport and mutual recognition, and a realization that being shot ‘naturally’ as they bought coffee or walked their dog would give them much-needed – and free – publicity.
Second, the paparazzi industry is inseparable from the wider media-content production complex. As I have described in chapter 4, a particular strand of ‘serious’ news journalism gradually became less prevalent in mainstream reporting, replaced by a softer journalism. Recent work undertaken by Graeme Turner highlights this shift, emphasizing that the way in which journalists engage with celebrity news rests not on the independent and objective viewpoint of traditional news reporting. Rather, ‘credibility is established by quality of access to the sources of celebrity news, rather than by their capacity to deliver verifiable evidence-based reports’ (Turner 2014: 149). This already familiar viewpoint not only bleeds into the relationship between journalist and celebrity, but also between the reader and the object of authorship. This highlights a small but very important nuance: a shift in how audiences, who have traditionally received or interacted with varying themes of news in specific ways in accordance to their themes, now have a more streamlined and generic experience of the news as a whole, thanks to a growing trend in journalists being free from ‘more traditional notions of objectivity and independence’ (Turner 2014: 150).
It is important to recognize that the paparazzi industry is defined as much by its distribution channels as by the taking of the photos in the first place. The continual developments of social media have broadened and ‘elasticized’ access to, and flows of, celebrity images (Marshall 2007). Paparazzi agencies bring audiences the images of celebrities, but it is the increasingly sophisticated distribution technology – smartphones, tablets, super-lightweight laptops – which allows the photographer to generate images with unprecedented immediacy. The technology kit of an individual paparazzi photographer is increasingly smaller, lighter and more accurate, with highdefinition cameras that can take up to 300 shots a minute, as well as ever-smaller, state-of-the-art video cameras. With agencies now based online, paparazzi images can be uploaded and accessed within minutes of being taken. The organizational structure of the paparazzi agency is crucial here. Agencies often have more than one base, so as to cover ‘celebrity-heavy’ destinations, such as Los Angeles and London.
Thus, the significance of paparazzi agency entertainment websites lies not only in the simultaneity of their production of fan-oriented content, and outsourcing to other news and entertainment agencies, but also in the web’s speed and ability to reach a mass audience (Jenkins 2006). Publicists work with paparazzi agencies because they know the value of their power, driven by the web, with the ability to distribute pictures and news stories around the world in as little as twelve seconds (Heinich 2014). It is also important to consider how social media – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – is influencing the way in which images are redefining celebrity news. Mobile and visual social networking, where celebrities are on the same platform as fans and followers, provide an interesting new dimension to the study of paparazzi, and one which will become increasingly significant (Wortham 2013).
The third area of concern is how paparazzi fit within broader traditions of photographic practice and professionalism. What kind of photographer the paparazzo is provokes much debate. The transition from analogue to digital photography brought a gradual shift in the nature of professional photographic practice, which had always required a long apprenticeship or training. Up until the late 1990s, high-level photography was not an easy career choice: from the heavy cameras which required manual focus and exposure, to the inconvenience of flashes which needed to be constantly changed, to the expensive film which also required changing as well as development in darkrooms, followed by the sheer expense of distributing and syndicating the best images, it is little surprise that the field of the paparazzi was a relatively small one.
However, we are now in a time of ‘ubiquitous photography’ (Hand 2012) and the ‘amateur meta-picture’ (Becker 2014). The remarkable development of smartphone camera technology means that it is also important to recognize that there has been a transition in the number and quality of photographers in the world. When we see the paparazzi in action, they may often appear to be almost amateurs, holding the camera aloft without even using the viewfinder. The sophistication of topof-the-range cameras such as the Canon 6D means that almost anyone can take a commercially successful photo in theory. Yet there are many who believe that the most successful paparazzi are as talented, and as misunderstood, as historically revered artists (Kimmelman 1997a).
This requires an understanding of the nature of photographic practice and training, and also a working knowledge of the emergence of digital photography. There is now an established scholarly interest in the development of photography as a practice (e.g. Bull 2010; Shore 2007; Wells 1996). However, the discussion in this book extends this to include the importance of photo agencies in structuring the distribution of the image, together with its price. To understand this requires the realization that, as Frosh (2001b) puts it, photography is ‘both an image and a material artefact’ (p. 43):
photography’s uniqueness stems from its fusion of indexical and iconic signification in a mechanical-chemical process: the fact that the camera can create realistic and infinitely reproducible images of whatever is situated in its field. This combination of physical contiguity, visual similarity and unlimited multiplication with regard to the visible world endows photography with what we can call ‘representational power’; and it is of a type and degree that constitutes a historic transformation of representation in relation to previous visual media. (Frosh 2001b: 44).
This power is ‘dramatized, in part, through the iconography of the image itself: content, compositional clues, focus, colour, and the response of those photographed to the presence of the camera’ (ibid.). At various points, I connect the discussion back to older traditions of visual representation, particularly portraiture and street photography (Sturken and Cartwright 2001).
When I first decided to undertake a study of paparazzi, in 2009, I had no idea whether photographers would be interested in participating in an academic study, and anticipated that it would be quite difficult to gain access. I tried my hand at emailing a few Sydney-based photographers with contact details I found from their websites, and before long had been put in contact with Peter Carrette, one of the city’s best-known ‘old-school’ paparazzi. He had gained notoriety in the late 1960s for taking a shot of Marianne Faithfull (then Mick Jagger’s girlfriend) as she lay in a coma in a Sydney hospital. Carrette invited me to the Bondi Icebergs café for lunch with him, paid for my meal, and was cheerfully candid about his work and personal life – giving the impression that the two were inseparable. The interview opened up many doors, and revealed industry secrets that I had been unaware of.
It was already clear, of course, that the key sites of the paparazzi industry were in the United States, above all in Los Angeles and New York. Before too long, I made the trip to Los Angeles, which houses many of the world’s leading paparazzi agencies. I had a short but fascinating discussion with a leading agency head in West Hollywood’s iconic Canters Delicatessen. I sat outside the Coffee Bean at the top of Robertson Boulevard with a couple of well-established photographers, as we counted the numerous stationary ‘pap’ cars waiting for a celebrity of any description to emerge onto the sidewalk. In the offices of Bauer-Griffin, I admired the agency’s widely circulated image of a toned Barack Obama surfing in Hawaii days before his inauguration as American President. A trip to New York followed, and there I was indebted to the photo editor of Us Weekly, Brittain Stone, and Rob DeMarco of Life and Style, who gave me a candid and highly entertaining set of accounts of their jobs, and of the industry more broadly. I staked out a red-carpet premiere, paying more attention to how the photographers lined up than to the celebrities themselves; followed a journalist as we tried to track down Katie Holmes, rumoured to be shooting a film in Nolita; and was nearly enrolled in an ‘airport job’ (spotting and photographing arriving celebrities as they come through arrivals). In London, Toronto and Berlin, I was given insights to the very specific conditions of paparazzi work in these cities by some leading industry professionals. Coming full circle, back home in Sydney, I Skyped with others who couldn’t meet in person on my travels.
Aside from the thirty semi-structured interviews I conducted with paparazzi agency owners, photographers, photo editors and entertainment journalists, the empirical material encompassed a wide range of other sources. This included reference to some of the key existing book-length sources: first-person accounts such as Ray Bellisario’s To Tread on Royal Toes (1972), and Brad Elterman’s Shoot the Stars (1985); and Darryn Lyons’s Mr Paparazzi (2008); the comprehensive – and highly pictorial – surveys provided by Howe (2005) and Chéroux (2014a); and the huge volume of press coverage over the years provided by publications as diverse as the New York Times and fan blogs. The UK Leveson Inquiry, set up to examine widespread phone-tapping practices undertaken by News International’s News of the World, has provided a remarkable archive of evidence about the actual operation of contemporary media industries, which I have drawn from in chapter 6.
The book begins by briefly tracing the emergence of what we now know as paparazzi photography, from its origins in post-war Italy, its refinement in the work of the likes of Ron Galella who operated in the New York of the late 1960s and early 1970s, its torrid relationship with the British royal family, and its commercial explosion in the American magazine-circulation battles of the 2000s. This era also helps us to understand the way in which celebrities have needed to utilize the paparazzi’s role as key players in their careers (Gamson 1994:81).
Chapter 2 describes the operating conditions, techniques and skill base of the paparazzi photographer, and highlights their daily routines. It examines the ways in which people can approach and are approached by agencies to become photographers, and how, in the currently unregulated system, there is a tendency towards employment of a precarious nature. This chapter goes on to explore the ways in which employees under these conditions manifested a demonization of the public image of the paparazzi. The pursuit of celebrities, rather than stakeouts (that is, waiting for something to happen in front of them), became the norm in the day-to-day business. This physical practice, and the psychological tactics accompanying it, also changed the course of the industry. It created the idea of ‘celebrity circuits’, mental maps of places and pathways where celebrity ‘traffic’ would gather. As the chapter explains, this in turn created the ‘gangs’ of paparazzi that would be assigned to a certain celebrity in order to get as many shots as they could.
Chapter 3 focuses on the structure of the industry, highlighting the pivotal role of agencies and photo editors in driving the production of celebrity images. It looks at the shift from smaller-scale agencies to the massive Getty Images as a new player in the industry landscape. The focus here is on the power of the stock image, where celebrity isn’t a necessity, but rather a portion of an already huge database of varied visual imagery, ready to be disseminated to the related media. The importance of this lies mostly in the dexterity of the dissemination process, such as syndication, by an agency, and how the main photo agencies operate, particularly in terms of how they source photos and then price them. It also discusses the role of photo editors in media outlets who are key mediators in the image markets.
In chapter 4, I discuss how this fits into entertainmentmedia news agendas, and how new media platforms, from the video paparazzi of TMZ to gossip websites, have in turn shaped the celebrity industry itself. It also considers how certain celebrities become particularly newsworthy through the conscious construction of ‘story arcs’, which are based around paparazzi images. Following from this, the chapter also explores the nature of celebrity characterization within these story arcs. In this sense, the celebrities are created by the story arcs they are slotted into, as well as being the catalyst for the stories themselves. This is an example of how paparazzi, tabloid media and reality TV co-create rich, saleable storylines which can be serialized for weeks on end. Gossip bloggers such as Perez Hilton helped to pave the way for agencies themselves to channel their content in front of the consumer audience as well as the client-based one. This was in no small part due to the unlawful use of their content by bloggers, which contributed to the autonomous creation of entertainment news by agencies themselves, and thus another stage in the growth as a hybrid business-to-business, business-to-client and business-to-consumer industry as it exists today. The advent of social media has entirely reconfigured the celebrity industry, allowing celebrities to curate ‘private’ imagery.
In chapter 5, I trace through some of the connections between paparazzi shots and other genres. The chapter highlights a connection between historical imagery and paparazzi photography, and suggests that social, compositional and aesthetic elements of what modern viewers understand as ‘fine art’ has similarities to paparazzi photography. Scholars and the general public alike approach portrait painting and street photography with a reverence of historical and/or cultural importance not granted to paparazzi imagery. However, through a discussion of various street-inspired photographers such as Weegee, Diane Arbus and Juergen Teller, we can situate modern paparazzi photography within a wider context in the history of photography. The expressionistic tones of street photography – achieved in part by the inherent movement of both the subject and the photographer – form an essential characteristic of these historical fine-art pursuits, one which also defines modern paparazzi aesthetics and intentions. The chapter considers the ways in which the aesthetics and practices of paparazzi are exhibited and enacted, and how they work between high and low culture.
Finally, chapter 6 pulls together some of the key regulatory and ethical questions concerning paparazzi activity, particularly around rights to privacy, and paparazzi conduct. This is by no means an easy task, given highly different traditions of rights in different countries, as well as different media institutions. It begins with an overview of the legislative climate surrounding paparazzi activities, and the attempts by certain celebrities to bring forward a law in which the impact of camera technology would be specifically named. Cases such as the unsolicited circulation of images of the wedding of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, which triggered a series of court cases over image copyright, highlights the complex nature of image ownership. In a similar way, further discussion of the ethics of taking pictures of the children of celebrities is contemplated, with consideration of the idea that celebrities’ children suffer from ‘fame by association’, and are thus ‘born into’ a life of exposure. This argument is further complicated by the fact that the exposure of celebrities’ children is not uniform and that, in fact, many celebrities ‘exploit’ their children in formally contracted images sold to magazines, for example, as a story on the celebrities’ home life. These examples help to unpack the complexities of the desire for privacy in the midst of celebrity work and, further, the issue of separation of work and lifestyle, which are built upon the requirement of celebrity publicity (Rein, Kotler and Stoller 1997; Schickel 2000).
The aim of this book is that it should act as a companion to the ongoing conversation and arguments about the paparazzi. It also contributes to the definitions of and critical analysis towards the industry, and its role in the wider scope of entertainment journalism, news reportage and visual social media. My hope is that it provides an open commentary alongside the rapidly changing mechanics of technology and public relations behind the industry, and a view to the way in which students, researchers and the generally interested public can engage with these issues, ultimately contributing to the way in which the paparazzi are understood and defined.
This chapter describes four key moments in the evolution of the paparazzi industry, running from Rome in the 1950s to Los Angeles in the 2000s. It begins with an introduction to what many people see as the origins of the paparazzi as a profession and the popularization of the term ‘paparazzi’ in Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita (1959), discussing the impact of the photographer Tazio Secchiaroli (who Fellini’s character was based on). The focus then shifts to the United States of the 1960s and 1970s, with a discussion of the most influential photographer in the modern paparazzi industry, Ron Galella, who brought the Italian techniques of street confrontation to capture the era’s political and cultural icons as they exited hotels, apartments and nightclubs. In his pursuit of the wife of John F. Kennedy, Jackie Onassis, Galella foreshadowed the increasingly extreme lengths to which photographers would go to achieve their shots. The chapter then examines how paparazzi photography emerged in the UK, tracing the public’s growing fascination with the British royal family, which notoriously culminated in the recriminations that followed the 1997 death of Princess Diana. Finally, the discussion returns to the United States of the late 1990s, at a point when the long-established paparazzi photographers were jostled by an influx of amateurs, immigrants and ‘citizen’ paparazzi seduced by the promise of big payouts for capturing exclusive images of the likes of Britney Spears. This period, known in the industry as the ‘gold rush’, was characterized by spiralling prices for often unremarkable images, driven by circulation battles between major entertainment publishers, primarily Time Inc’s People Magazine and Wenner Media’s Us Weekly.
La Dolce Vita, Fellini’s film, follows a tabloid journalist looking for stories – while also searching for a more meaningful way of life – in the glamorous nightclub society of contemporary Rome. It is also seen as a satirical comment on the Italian way of life, in particular the juxtaposition between the traditions of Catholicism and the lifestyle of luxury and glamour portrayed on the Via Veneto. The Catholic Church viewed it as a film ‘that not only reflected a decline in religious fervour in Italy but as a work of art that was actually instrumental in pulling the faithful away from the church’ (Bondanella 2002: 66). The film was both a commercial and critical success at the time, winning the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and it grossed over 2.2 billion lire at a time in Italy when cinemagoing was slow, also having cost a total of 600 million lire to make.
In the film, the character ‘Paparazzo’ is one of the photographers who follows stars around Rome’s Via Veneto, annoying them like ‘pests’. This activity – of capturing pictures of famous people without their consent – would be immortalized by the film, and named after this character. However, paparazzi activity can be traced back to before the film’s inception. Fellini was in effect documenting something that had already been happening in the streets of Italy in the 1950s, the way in which photographers would take unsolicited pictures of tourists and American soldiers, then try to sell the prints to them. At this time in Rome, photographers doing this were known as scattini (roughly translated to English as ‘snapper’, no doubt a reference to the notion that these photographers were active and alert on the street, ‘looking for opportunities’ to quickly ‘snap’ with their cameras) (Mormorio 1999: 7). These scattini would wait for tourists and soldiers ‘at crucial spots, and then, with a big smile, offer to take souvenir photographs. Many people accepted, surely just for fun; they posed and then received a card with the location that they were to pick up the snapshot’ (Mormorio 1999: 7). This method was not a particularly lucrative venture, with few people taking up the offer to buy the spontaneous photographs. This prompted the scattini to change their approach:
Rather than shoot indiscriminately, they would instead approach someone, pretend to take their picture – what was really a fake shot – and if the person seemed interested, the scattino would tell him/her to pay twenty lire in advance to get the photograph. Then he offered to take the second shot, just to be on the safe side, and, naturally, it was always the second shot that the clients would see when they went to pick up the photographs. (Mormorio 1999: 7).
The growing divide between ‘dedicated photographers’ and those scattini who were now also supplying images to the press began at this time. Mormorio quotes the founder of the weekly newspaper L’Espresso, Arrigo Benedetti, who referred to the period as the ‘flash age’, noting the rise of a photographer interested in capturing social realism (Benedetti 1970: ix, in Mormorio 1999: 19–20). A class structure emerged in terms of who was and was not a credible photographer. Dedicated photographers were ‘born into “good” families, and many of them were avowed Communists; they experienced photography as an aesthetic choice and a tool of political struggle. As a result, they nurtured a real contempt for those who worked for the tabloids’ (Mormorio 1999: 19).
The leading paparazzi photographers of the 1950s, such as Tazio Secchiaroli and Pierluigi Praturlon, were always looking to incorporate an element of confrontation and surprise into their shots, as these were the pictures that sold best. One of the most dramatic set-ups, in 1958, involved a confrontation between Secchiaroli and the actors Walter Chiari and Ava Gardner. Chiari and Gardner had just come to the end of an evening of nightclubbing. Four Via Veneto photographers who had been following them all night had taken some standard but fairly worthless pictures. As Chiari was parking his car at an apartment building, Secchiaroli, after making sure his collaborators were well-positioned, went up to Gardner and exploded a flash right in Gardner’s face. She screamed and the infuriated Chiari went for Secchiaroli, only to be photographed in the act by one of the waiting photographers. The resulting pictures gave the impression that a fight had broken out, thus enhancing their commercial value (Mormorio 1999: 26).
This period was an important one for the myth of paparazzi. There were other critical contemporaneous developments elsewhere in Europe. As Vanessa Schwartz describes, the Cannes Film Festival was a key event in post-war celebrity culture, ‘where the division between life and art became increasingly thin and photojournalism played a critical role in that dissolution’ (Schwartz 2010: 2). In Cannes, the frenzy surrounding the entry of film stars via the staircase into the festival hall became a spectacle in itself. But perhaps the other key element of this period was the importance of the street as a site of display for celebrities. The Via Veneto became the epicentre for film stars who came to shoot films at Cinecittà, Rome’s version of the Hollywood studio system. As Howe describes:
The famous bars and restaurants, such as the Café de Paris, Doney, and Harry’s Bar, were frequented by a galaxy of glittering personalities – Anita Ekberg, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Marcello Mastroianni, and Anthony Steele, among them. They came to see and be seen (one of the attractions of the street was that it was wide enough to accommodate their expensive cars) and to show off their equally flashy companions. Magazine readers, in a period when the memory of war and its grim aftermath was only too fresh, loved to see this ostentatious behaviour. (2005: 57)
There are two important observations made here, which point to the growing importance of the paparazzi for the construction of celebrity. The first is the idea of celebrities performing their off-screen personas in public, as opposed to the earlier approach of very limited audience awareness of off-screen personas (Dyer 1998). The second is the notion of escapism on the part of the audience. This period became foundational in terms of the way that paparazzi are understood today. The idea of entrapment, provocation and intrusion on the private life of celebrities remains influential in the public imagination. The period coincided with the growing availability of cheaper cameras, better flash technology and a growth in the use of stylized photographs in the print media. Yet they were also a very distinct product of Italian popular culture, which continues to have a very close association with sensationalism and politics.
The second major moment in the creation of the ‘myth’ of the paparazzi came in 1970s New York. Ron Galella was the most well-known paparazzo working the streets of Manhattan, and his contribution to modern-day paparazzi is significant in numerous ways. His pioneering methods have inspired and influenced many photographers who came after him, and his legacy as a paparazzi photographer lives on in this respect. Renowned for spectacular photographs of celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Jackie Onassis and Frank Sinatra, his work came to define the American celebrity culture of the 1970s. His career was discussed in a widely circulated documentary, Smash His Camera (2010).
Why was Galella so influential? I suggest three reasons. First, Galella provided an inspiration for many paparazzi photographers who began their careers in the 1970s and 1980s. He paved the way for many photographers and showed by example that it was possible to be a professional in the midst of an industry that can be taken as rogue:
You know Ron Galella the great paparazzo? The best thing I ever learned from him, ’cause he was a wonderful mentor, was to shoot with the camera down here [points towards his stomach] so you can talk to them and engage them and they can see you. Not out in front because there’s no rapport. (Los Angeles agency owner, 2010)
Several of the major paparazzi agencies operating in the US in the 2000s were headed by photographers who had been trained or otherwise inspired by Galella.
Second, Galella fitted within a tradition of street photography which valued spontaneity, patience, composition and social commentary. He shot both event and street images, being a regular at nightclubs such as Studio 54, as well as pursuing celebrities on foot during the day. In contrast to the routine ‘event’ images that are ubiquitous among current paparazzi content, Galella’s coverage of events in the 1970s and early 1980s was a different type of event photography. Because the 1970s were considered a time of freedom for the paparazzi, with relatively lax security, celebrity publicists were actually more inclined to help photographers get their shots, rather than deny them. Indeed, the paparazzi were regarded as ‘somewhat cutting edge figures’ in the 1970s, ‘cool to have at parties’ (Sales 1996: 36). At a time when the nightclub Studio 54 was in full swing, the images of famous people – from Pele to Elizabeth Taylor – behaving badly were thought to be glamorous. The period also coincided with the establishment of celebrity magazines such as People, Star (both 1974), and Us Weekly (1977), each of which would substantially increase the demand for paparazzi photography. More photographers began to enter the industry, and events became more exclusive. As Galella explained to Peter Howe:
You had to have an assignment to get on the list; you had to prove that you had published. It became too controlled; you didn’t have the freedom to get the good pictures that I like – pictures of people relating to each other, talking to each other, great shots like that. Nowadays you get posed pictures, people looking at the camera and static like statues. The photographers are all herded behind ropes, screaming the celebrities’ names to get their attention. It’s not the way I did it in the 70s. (Howe 2005: 63–7)
This also obviously had ramifications for the look and style of paparazzi photographs, and thus the definition of them.
Third, Galella was one of the first photographers to be involved in legal action that tested the nature of privacy rights in public space in terms of how ‘public’ figures could be followed and photographed. He was well known for having a particular interest in, the wife of President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Onassis (popularly known as Jackie O), to the point where Onassis sought legal recourse to prevent his continued pursuit. In Galella v. Onassis
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