Monday, August 28, 2006

How Paparazzi Work

by Robert Valdes

The worldwide obsession with celebrities spawns one of the most fascinating and feared by-products of pop culture -- paparazzi. Paparazzi are photographers who tirelessly hunt celebrities, public figures and their families for the opportunity to photograph them in candid, unflattering and at times compromising moments. What began as simple "street photography" is now a high-stakes game of cat and mouse that plays out in the everyday lives of the paparazzi's celebrity prey. As our cultures' voracious hunger for celebrity snapshots grows, so do the prices of these photos and the risks paparazzi take to get them. Many ethical, legal and privacy issues arise out of this questionable business.

How do paparazzi get those shots? How do they sell their pictures? To whom do they sell them? How do they get away with what they do? In this article, HowStuffWorks looks at those questions as well as the laws surrounding this issue and how celebrities are fighting back.

What's in a Word?
The word "paparazzi" is derived from a character in the Fellini film "La Dolce Vita." The character, a photographer named Paparazzo, reminded Fellini of "a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging."

Fellini's inspiration for the character was the famous Italian "street photographer" Tazio Secchiaroli. Fellini consulted Secchiaroli for research while developing the script for his classic film.

Secchiaroli became famous as a photographer when he captured candid photos of the former Egyptian King Farouk turning a table over at a restaurant in rage. On the same night, Secchiaroli also snapped photos of actor Anthony Steele in a public spat with actress Anita Ekberg. These photos started a trend in European publications, moving away from posed promotional shots of celebrities and toward surreptitiously captured candid photos.

The Hunt
At the most basic level, paparazzi hang out on the streets and in public places waiting for an opportunity to photograph a star. In public, the paparazzi can snap away unhindered by laws. But for a paparazzo who wants to make the big bucks, this method is far too inefficient. Paparazzi must make sure they are in the right place at the right time to get the shot.

Paparazzi work a lot like private detectives. Each paparazzo culls a network of informers to help keep tabs on celebrity targets. These informers can be people who work in businesses frequented by celebrities, such as restaurants, shops or salons. The paparazzo often pays for this information. In many cases, people who work for the star might be bribed to divulge the whereabouts of their employer.

Paparazzi also work with autographers. Autographers basically stalk celebrities, approach them in public places and ask for their autographs. They make their living by selling these autographs to fans and resellers. Paparazzi pay the autographers for information on the celebrity's whereabouts. As an added bonus, when the autographer stops the celebrity on the street, the paparazzo gets the opportunity to take the shot.

The key for the paparazzo is to get the information and get the shot before other paparazzi do. But hunting stars is just one aspect of this highly competitive industry. Once the paparazzo knows where the target is, there are various tactics he or she may use to get a photograph.

The tactics of the paparazzi center on this principle: Get a shot by any means necessary. The individual paparazzo is only limited by his or her resources, craftiness and nerve.

Technically speaking, in order to get the photo free and clear, the paparazzo must get the star out in public, away from a private residence or business. If the star is in a private area, the photo must be taken discreetly from a distance and with the photographer standing on public land.

In more extreme cases, some paparazzi have taken photographs from rooftops or tree tops. They have shot private events from rented helicopters or boats. In some cases, if the event is in a sealed building, paparazzi have staged fire alarms or bomb threats to cause an evacuation of the building that forces their subjects onto the streets.

Is that legal? The answer is no. But with the lucrative nature of the business, legal expenses have become part of operating costs and have contributed significantly to the high price tag on such photographs.

Throwing false alarms is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the illegal methods used to get a photo. Paparazzi have done much worse:

A paparazzo intentionally had a car accident with Catherine Zeta-Jones to force her out of her car.
Actor Sean Penn was intentionally provoked many times into physical confrontations to get photos and create lawsuits.
Paparazzi posed as Michael Douglas's family members to gain access to the hospital where his son was born.
Susan Sarandon found a paparazzi camp hidden on her property.
Britney Spears and her mother were surrounded at a pet store. Britney's mother injured a photographer fleeing the scene in her car.
An English tabloid published Gwyneth Paltrow's daily route while she does her household routines, as well as the location of her new house, based on information gathered from paparazzi.

Paparazzi Price
Paparazzi sell their photos to the highest bidder. Depending on the quality, subject and situation, photos can go for anywhere between a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The celebrity-photograph business is highly competitive and risky to both life and limb. Very few photographers make their fortune as paparazzi: Often, it costs more to get the shot than they'll make selling the photo.

In essence, paparazzi are freelance photographers. Once they have a photo, they must shop it around to the different publications. To offer a photograph, the paparazzo can e-mail a low-resolution copy of the photo, with a watermark embedded in the image, to prospective buyers. These precautions keep the digital photo from being stolen. If the buyer is interested, the price of the photo is negotiated. Some of the negotiating factors are:
Who is the celebrity?
Is the photo verifiable?
What is the celebrity doing?
How high is the quality of the photo?
What is the availability of similar photographs from other paparazzi?

More successful paparazzi have agents who will find buyers. This allows the photographer to focus on his or her work. The very successful paparazzo has an agent, a lawyer, drivers and additional photographers who all work together as a team to get the best shots possible so they can sell them at the highest price.

Paparazzi Technology
Paparazzi benefit from the digital age. The obvious weapon of the paparazzi is the camera, and new digital technology stacks the odds in favor of the celebrity photographer. With smaller digital cameras, it is easier for paparazzi to conceal their work. Digital photography also lowers film costs considerably and makes distribution of the photos for sale much easier. Even if the shots are taken with a traditional film camera, the paparazzo no longer has to rely on the mail or (even more dangerous) his own two feet to shop the photos around.

Camera phones help paparazzi get their equipment into events when no cameras are allowed. With camera phones growing more prevalent, certain places may have to adopt a "no phone" policy to curb unauthorized picture-taking.

Wireless video cameras are also becoming a regular staple of the paparazzi arsenal. Paparazzi can either wear the cameras or plant them to capture celebrities unaware. The tiny cameras sport increasingly powerful transmitters that broadcast digital video to receivers. Paparazzi can sell the video footage or else pull good photo stills from it.

Common specifications for many of the wireless video cameras on the market include:
300-foot range (91 meters)
Full-color image
Hours of operation off of 9-volt batteries
60-degree field of view
15 frames per second

Anti-paparazzi Tactics
Some stars develop some pretty imaginative ways to combat paparazzi. Russell Crowe beat the paparazzi at their own game by scooping them on his 2003 wedding. Crowe authorized his own photographers to shoot the wedding and then released the photos and video in exclusive deals with publications and networks.

Supermodel Heidi Klum took a similar approach to keep paparazzi away from her daughter. Celebrity children are a favorite of paparazzi -- "That's why I released the photos of her, instead of having photographers hunt for them," Klum told USA Today.

Everything from disguises to decoys are used to avoid recognition in public places. At times, celebrities use multiple cars to cover travel routes. False press statements and an alias can cover a celebrity's whereabouts. More low-tech solutions involve canopies over outdoor events and good old-fashioned bruiser security to keep the paparazzi at bay.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas took perhaps some of the most famous and extreme set of measures to keep paparazzi out of the picture at their wedding:
All of the caterers, help, suppliers and any other vendors associated with the wedding had to sign confidentiality agreements (even the ones that didn't get the job).
No wedding guests were given the time or location of the wedding until the last minute.
The day before the wedding, special tickets were hand-delivered or couriered to the invited guests.
Each ticket had a code in invisible ink alongside a special design. Only one person, wedding planner Simone Martel Levinson, knew what that design looked like. Before allowing each guest entry, Levinson personally authenticated the design on that guest's ticket.
Once admitted to the wedding, guests swapped the tickets for a gold "guest" pin designed by Jones and Douglas. The ticket swap and the pins were kept secret until the event.
No guests were allowed to have cameras inside the event.
Other hotel guests staying at the Plaza Hotel were not allowed anywhere near the wedding rooms.
Up until the moment the wedding started, all wedding rooms were swept several times for hidden audio or video recording devices.
The New York Police Department and Fire Department were on board for security. All of the hotel's fire alarms were monitored by personnel throughout the wedding to make sure no one would pull them during the event.
Three private security guards patrolled the corridors at all times.

The security bill for the wedding equaled more than $66,000, but even with all of those countermeasures, paparazzo Rupert Thorpe managed to infiltrate the wedding and snap shots of the bride and groom that he later sold to publications Hello! and The Sun.

As you can imagine, this boiled the blood of the newlyweds, who pursued legal action and won a nominal settlement against the publications.

Are there laws that protect paparazzi's rights to invade privacy in the name of a photograph? This becomes the central question when discussing how paparazzi work. In the next sections, we will look at laws related to privacy, photography and paparazzi.

Right of Privacy
The laws on the right of privacy vary from country to country. Under U.S. law, the right of privacy is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as:

1. The right to personal autonomy. The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly provide for a right of privacy or for a general right of personal autonomy, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that a right of personal autonomy is implied in the "zones of privacy" created by specific constitutional guarantees.

2. The right of a person and the person's property to be free from unwarranted public scrutiny or exposure. -- Also termed right to privacy.

So, if we are to understand that the law upholds our right to be "free from unwarranted public scrutiny or exposure," then it would seem paparazzi are not allowed to do what they do. There is, however, a loophole in the law. This loophole comes into the picture if you are legally defined as a public figure.

Public Figures
Celebrities, public officials and private citizens involved in newsworthy incidences are all legally defined as public figures. Public figures actually have far fewer rights to privacy than an "ordinary person." Public figures break down into three types:
Public figure: A person who has achieved fame or notoriety or who has voluntarily become involved in a public controversy. A public figure (or public official) suing for defamation must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice.

Example: Movie stars like Brad Pitt or Gwyneth Paltrow fall into this category.

All-purpose public figure: A person who achieves such pervasive fame or notoriety that he or she becomes a public figure for all purposes and in all contexts. For example, a person who occupies a position with great persuasive power and influence may become an all-purpose public figure, whether or not the person actively seeks attention.

Example: A company executive such as Michael Eisner or a politician like George W. Bush fall into this category.

Limited-purpose public figure: A person who, having become involved in a particular public issue, has achieved fame or notoriety only in relation to that particular issue.

Example: People involved in a controversy, such as the parents of JonBenet Ramsey, fall into this category.

These exclusions of the law give the paparazzi their rights. That is not to say that paparazzi don't break laws in the pursuit of a shot. But as long as there is a high demand for what they do, breaking the law becomes an acceptable risk. Us Weekly's editor-in-chief, Janice Min, says, "A celebrity is like an elected official. If you're getting paid $20 million a movie, you have to rely on public goodwill to stay in office. You have to accept the fact that you're a public commodity."

The Laws of Photography
The laws regarding public photography have always been a gray area. In the United States, photographs that are taken for editorial use in a public place generally enjoy Constitutional protection under the right of free speech. There are exceptions, however. Here are just a few of the gray areas:
While taking a picture in a public place is almost always legal, any public place can become a secured emergency area in the event of a police crime scene, disaster, fire or riot. In this case, photography is not legal without permission.

Even editorial photographs can come under scrutiny when a caption is added. If the caption implies something false or slanderous about the person in the photo, then it is no longer protected. And the gray area becomes even grayer when you talk about photos as fine art. That is especially true if the artist intends to sell the photograph.

Photographers cannot take pictures of a person in a public place without permission if that photo is going to be used to promote any goods or services.
Moreover, it is important to note that not all places that seem public are public. Malls, hospitals, restaurants and hotels are all privately owned businesses.

Anti-Paparazzi Legislation
In a 2003 interview with The Guardian, Ewan McGregor spoke out against paparazzi and the publications that buy their pictures:
Heat magazine's a dirty, filthy piece of sh-t and I'd like to put that on record. People shouldn't buy it because it sucks… If a guy comes up and asks me, 'Can I take a picture of your daughter?' that's one thing. But if he's hiding behind a bus and he takes a picture of me and my daughter he's legally allowed to publish that photo in the press. I have no rights to stop him and I think that's wrong. I think we should encourage people to beat up paparazzi.

More and more stars are taking paparazzi to court. McGregor won a case in the United Kingdom on breech-of-confidence and data-protection laws.

Michael Douglas and Katherine Zeta-Jones won their settlement on a separate legal issue. They had official wedding photographers and a deal with OK magazine. When Hello! and The Sun bought and published Rupert Thorpe's photos, they broke trade laws by destroying the exclusivity of the couple's deal with OK.

More and more stars are able to turn to other laws to protect themselves from paparazzi since their rights of privacy are contested. Specific anti-paparazzi legislation has gone into effect in various countries. France has very strict anti-paparazzi legislation. In the United States, California passed anti-paparazzi legislation into law after the death of Princess Diana. That event alone caused many governments to reexamine their paparazzi laws.

The controversy surrounding anti-paparazzi legislation is the question of where to draw the line between legitimate newsgathering and invasions of privacy. If laws are left as they are, a celebrity's privacy and, in some cases, his or her life will continue to be endangered by the ruthlessness of some photographers. On the other hand, if the laws become too restrictive then the freedom of the press could be jeopardized. The solution remains unclear.

So the question arises -- what is the source of the problem? While the tactics of paparazzi are repellent to most people, the same people clamber to buy magazines that carry such photos. Are paparazzi the problem or merely a symptom of a voyeuristic society?




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