Paparazzo, you either love to hate them, or hate that you love them. Their photos are everywhere, on our Facebook feed, on Twitter, Instagram and even on Snapchat. Paparazzo are freelance photographers in pursuit of unflattering and unofficial photos of A-list stars and celebrities. From gossip magazines to online blogs, to the tabloid newspapers, we are constantly flogged with paparazzo photography, and we can’t help but absorb it all and degrade the person behind the camera.
The term “paparazzo” was first associated with Italian film director Federico Fellini; who developed the word by combining pappataci, meaning “sandflies” and ragazzi, meaning “ruffians”. When producing the 1960 film, La Dolce Vita, Fellini drew inspiration from Italian photographer Tazio Secchiaroli, who was the first paparazzi to photograph one of the stars in the film, Anita Ekberg, who was simply enjoying a night out in Rome. So, that’s where it all started, after all, paparazzi are always photographing celebrities doing everyday tasks, but that doesn’t bother us, because we all want to know what salad Kim Kardashian is eating these days. Carol Squiers, writer and creator of the International Center of Photography in New York, has commented on Secchiaroli photographing methods and states that “he couldn’t have foreseen the phenomenon he was helping to create – a multibillion-dollar industry that became known as paparazzi photography”.
Before we judge and scrutinise paparazzi, let’s put ourselves in their shoes. A Buzzfeed interview with 247 paps gives us a snapshot of a working day in the life of a paparazzi. Days can start as early as 7:30 am, with a paparazzi arriving at a location where they suspect a celebrity will leave around 9:00 am. Paparazzo must keep up to date on all social media platforms, and constantly need to know when celebrities are coming to town and which hotel they are staying at. The second most important thing as a paparazzi is beating the competition. Arriving to the location, photographing the celeb, editing and selling are crucial moments because “for every paparazzi that enters the scene, the dollar amount gets sliced.” Any photo of a celebrity can go from being worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to nothing in less than an hour as soon as others hear the word and get the same shot. Major events are high priorities, particularly Fashion Week, when fashionista celebrity models like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid are likely to walk the streets of New York. Other days can be spent on the streets of well-known locations where celebrities are likely to stay or eat, like Bar Pitt in New York. But the downfall to this is having to watch every single face that walks by, often waiting hours on end to catch the shot. However it doesn’t end there, it is now a race against time and other paparazzo to pick the best photo, edit it and send it to big publications like, Daily Mail and People Magazine. This results in excruciatingly long days ending in late hours; paparazzo don’t stop until the celebrities do.
Basically, Paparazzo are just like you and me. They’re just trying to make a living out of something, and that something is often despised. Paparazzo contribute a great deal to the online public sphere, a place where you and I can get our daily dosage of the Kardashians, royal wedding mayhem and other celebrity “hot gossip”. The public sphere is a social space where people are given the freewill to express opinions, paparazzo add to this public sphere by providing “evidence”. For example, celebrities dating other celebrities or grown-up disney sweethearts having a mid-life crisis, we won’t believe it unless there’s photo evidence, and if there’s no evidence then there’s nothing to talk about. Our sheer fascination with where celebrities like to eat and what brands they’re wearing always amazes me. We can never get enough of it and if it weren’t for the paps, then we’d never know such important and life- changing information.
The visual culture that we naturally immerse ourselves in has a way to sway our lives, the things we see and study on the daily basis without consciously knowing. From advertising on buses, to blockbuster movies and seasonal apparel – anything within our culture that communicates through visual means, much like paparazzi photography. When studying visual culture, often we look at production, reception and intention of the content being created as it reflects the culture of the work. Paparazzi photography has a quick production process, unlike day-shoots where sets, make-up and prop artists are needed, paparazzi photography solely relies on the celebrities outfit of the day and location. However, unlikely professional photoshoots, paparazzos have a reputation of being more hostile with a snobby intention.
I’ve also wondered why invasive reporters who throw questions after questions at celebrities aren’t shunned as much as paparazzo. After all, aren’t paparazzo like reporters but instead of reporting, they snap the story. So why shouldn’t we mind the paps? They give us the inside scoop, they show us celebrities in their raw, natural habitat and they provide us with entertainment, for example, when Kanye West tried to steal a paparazzi’s camera. At the end of the day, yes paparazzos should remain respectful and kind to celebrities (especially when kids are involved). But let’s be real, if you saw a celebrity out-and-about, you can’t tell me you wouldn’t reach for your phone to snap a selfie, as they say “picture, or it never happened”.