OP-ED: From The Other Side of the Lens- A Response To the Anti-Paparazzi Lawsuit from a Former Paparazzo

This morning, I read a post on Petapixel on the photographer arrested under California’s Anti-Paparazzi law. And then the comments came in: ripping apart paparazzi and calling them scum. Now I totally understand where these commentors come from saying this, but I don’t feel that the other side of the story is ever heard in full. For those of you who have followed The Phoblographer for the approximately three years I’ve been running it, you all know my dark secret. However, we’ve gained a significantly large following over time and many of you don’t know who I really am.

I am a former paparazzo here in NYC. For a short period of time out of college, I hunted celebrities and I played the game until I decided it was too cut throat of an industry. Given the chance, I’d do it all over again. But with all of this said, no one ever hears or knows the other side of the story and how the industry works.

Dark Beginnings

A couple of years ago, I graduated from college into what I still believe was the worst part of the American recession. I did all the right things in college too:

– I networked and did multiple internships and by the end of my four year period I had six publications that I could account to my name.

– I maintained eight scholarships and ensured that I had no loans.

– I applied for jobs like crazy.

And yet, no one was hiring. It was a tough time. It was a dark time. And when we’re in dark places, we tend to gravitate towards dark things because of the pitch blackness that we’re surrounded by. So I did what every other college student did right out of school: I looked for a job on Craigslist.

The Typical Day

And upon responding to an ad for an agency hungry for young talent, I became a freelancer for Spotlight Press: a small agency in NYC. And the days went something like this:

– 6:03 AM: Receive an email from the agency telling me the locations of shoots, talent around the area, approximated time that they may be out in the public, etc.

– 7:00 AM- Get out of the house. After eating breakfast, showering, figuring out how to travel to the locations, spotting potential vantage points on Google Maps, and studying the facial characteristics of the talent, you then decide which task you’re going to tackle.

– 8:00 AM- Arrive at said place and setup. This means waiting it out at a deli or cafe, walking around the set like an eager fan/tourist, or finding photos of someone.

This wait can take anywhere from thirty seconds to ten hours for talent to show their faces. This all includes the normal human biological rhythms: fatigue, boredom, exhaustion, concentration, bathroom needs, food, etc. Paparazzi work in two different ways:

A. Long lens from super far away, not well concealed at all.

B. Medium to compact telephoto (or a 24-105mm equivalent) concealed in a messenger bag with the paparazzo acting like a normal person and trying to blend in with the crowd. When the talent comes out, their settings are already adjusted accordingly, the photographer takes a couple of shots, hides the camera, takes more shots, hides, and continues until they believe that they are all set and ready to go.

If you get the photos you need, you typically head to a cafe with Wifi (Barnes and Noble quickly became a best friend of mine.) edited your photos, uploaded them to the agency’s FTP servers and then went back out and shot. You either went back to the same location depending on how valuable the client is, or you move on to another one.

Or, you call it a day.

In the end, you only get paid for the exclusive photos that your agency sells. But after a while, you learn to keep some for yourself and shop them around to various editors. How do you find those editors? You knock on doors and start saying the Hail Mary until an answer comes: the same way I built the Phoblographer (but for this, it was camera companies).

The Information Stream

So how was this information sent to us to begin with? Here’s how:

– The agents of these celebrities pay very close attention to the media coverage that their client is getting. Let’s say Kim Kardashian’s agent saw some photos that I shot of her in US Weekly. This can now go one of two ways:

A. The agent contacts my agency (if the credit is to the agency) and they say something along the lines of, “Hey, we saw your images in US Weekly. By the way, my client will be at so and so at so and so and we can ensure that your agency gets the exclusives.”

Key word there being exclusives, which means money.

The agency then disseminates the information out to the photographers in the agency. And the photographers are then not only competing with each other, but photographers from other agencies too. It is a beautifully cut-throat process where only the strongest survive.

B. The agent contacts me if I sold them directly, and says something along the same lines. And that is how a relationship develops.

C. Someone gives the information to a blog like On Location Vacations, and the paparazzo goes to the locations and plans out their own itinerary for the day.

See something here? In the end, even if the clients don’t want to be photographed, the agents do. It is all part of the business.

How We Consume Media

Scum. That is what paparazzi are called by many photographers. Here in NYC, the artistic community is extra snobby and many even look down on wedding photographers in their own circles. But paparazzo are even below that.

They’re not necessary you say? Yes and no. There is a beautiful theory in communications and media studies that states that we are entertaining ourselves to death. And in all honesty, it is true. A famous example often cited is one incident that happened in Texas where an entire town was happy listening to some awesome tunes on the radio so much that a public service announcement couldn’t reach the public to tell them about a serious fire that happened.

Where am I getting with this: well, take a look around you and answer honestly. Do you love looking at those photos of Kate Hudson in a bikini, Kim Kardashian in tight clothing, or Alessandra Ambrosia around Fashion Week. Of course you do. Why? They’re hot.

Similarly, I don’t know many women that wouldn’t want to stare at David Beckham without a shirt on; the guy is ripped.

If you live in NYC or stay in one place for a long period of time, take a look at what some people read: they stare at photos.

Who took those photos? Probably a paparazzo; they feed a need that we pay attention to whether we want to or not.

My Thoughts

Breech of privacy? No way. First off, there are two different situations where a paparazzo shoots. Some film sets are in plain sight and public view, like many in NYC. If you’re in public, no one can tell you not to shoot legally. Heck, there are lawsuits by photographers against the government everyday about this. Photography is not a crime and photographers and paparazzo are not terrorists.

Antagonizing someone though can be just wrong. However, it is common practice. Why? At the end of the day, you have to put food on the table. And if it works for you, then it works for you. The lifestyle is very addicting. Notice how I also said antagonizing and not calling out to the person.

Additionally, public figures (like celebrities) cannot actually press charges against anyone unless they can show significant proof of being antagonized or defamed.

Now what about when someone is home? Did you break into their home? Well that’s wrong. Are you photographing them from way outside? Well, guess what, you’re okay.

Something else now: the majority of paparazzi don’t go to such great lengths to get a celebrity photo. They’re aggressive, sure. But they’re not stupid.

Additionally, paparazzi are once again sometimes invited by agents to shoot and the clients sometimes very well know what’s going on.

Finally, the law in California states that someone cannot be antagonized or followed too closely if the intent is commercial gain. Now here’s the problem: when exactly does commercial gain begin? There are loads of people who snap photos of celebs and then try to sell them without even thinking about it at first. Why aren’t they prosecuted?

The whole law and situation in my mind makes no sense, and to be honest with you I’m also very sick of paparazzi not being heard. There always is another side of the story; but we only ever hear about all the wrongs that they do.

Next time you’re staring at a celebrity tanning at the beach, consider the fact that a paparazzo probably shot it.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.