June 27, 2005

Ranks of paparazzi swell with demand for photos

By Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - They're cursed at, knocked down andhave objects thrown at them. They're loathed by their subjects.Yet the demand for the photos they shoot is stronger than ever.

Welcome to the world of the paparazzi: the guerrilla-likephotographers who will go to any length -- from renting ahelicopter to dressing up like a llama -- to get the "moneyshot" like those rare, candid pictures of Angelina Jolie andBrad Pitt frolicking on a Kenya beach that fed on the public'sobsession with the stars and sold for an estimated $500,000.

The paparazzi know Cameron Diaz flips the bird, Brad Pittwill use a hamburger for defense and Ben Affleck will engage ina high-speed car chase to evade these unwanted lensmen.

They are not the credentialed photographers who shootobediently from arm's length at premiers and the Oscars.

"Their job requires more cunning, creativity, and sheernerve than a red carpet ever demanded," said Peter Howe, whosebook "Paparazzi," published last month, delves into the photojournalists' world and their complex relationship with theirsubjects and the public.


Veteran paparazzi are quick to note that while many actorsoutwardly scorn them, they also know they cannot achieve orsustain fame without paparazzi photos in the press.

"I don't think they'd ever admit to saying they likepaparazzi, but there are certainly those who accept us as partof their business," said Frank Griffin, a veteran paparazzi whonow runs Bauer-Griffin agency with partner Randy Bauer.

These days, paparazzi photos appear in even the mostmainstream of publications as more news organizations than everhave sought to capitalize on the public's seemingly insatiableinterest in celebrity.

In his book, Howe said the O.J. Simpson trial was pivotalbecause the proceedings were covered live on TV and showcasedwhat was "under the rock of a celebrity's life."

Indeed, a celebrity may first learn he or she is off theA-list from the paparazzi.

"The paparazzi have amazing antenna. They know before acelebrity does when a career is cooling. It may not be much ofa consolation, but stars know their careers are on track whentheir lives are made hell by photographers," Howe said.

A thick skin is a prerequisite to be a paparazzo -- a termcoined by Italian director Federico Fellini in his 1960 film"La Dolce Vita."

"We don't have to worry about who we piss off. Everyone'salready pissed at us," Griffin says on his Web site.

Howe, former picture editor for the New York Times Magazineand director of photography for LIFE magazine, interviewedvarious paparazzi, like Phil Ramey, Ron Galella and Griffin forthe book which came out just as the Los Angeles policeannounced a probe into whether the city's paparazzi engage incriminal conspiracy to land photos of stars in distress.

The probe was announced in June shortly after aphotographer crashed his car into Lindsay Lohan's Mercedes, butauthorities said it was launched months earlier in response toa growing number of cases in which photographers band togetherto provoke celebrities.

Many fear another tragedy like the Paris car accident thatkilled Princess Diana in 1997.

"Certainly, the most indefensible part is the car chases.There are more photographers than just a few years ago and it'sbecome more and more dangerous," said Howe, who describestactics like "follows," which are when paparazzi chasecelebrities and surround their cars in traffic.


Los Angeles, with its sunny skies and pretty scenery, hasbecome a mecca for paparazzi, whose ranks have swelled from ahandful to over 100 in the past decade.

Some paparazzi will live in their cars for days, stakingout celebrity homes and scanning sidewalks for famous faces.

But Howe said the elite paparazzi do not engage in thechases. "The stupid paps, the grunts of the profession, wouldtry to run a star off the road or cause collisions," he said."The smarter ones, who make more money, try to avoid being seenat all costs. The big money comes when celebrities don't evenknow they're being photographed."

He provides many colorful anecdotes, telling how theNational Enquirer made up llama costumes for paparazzi to shootthe 1988 wedding of Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan in Vermontwedding near a field of the grazing animals. Fox foiled thephotographers by closing off his tent.

Top-earning paparazzo rely on their sources to tip them.Griffin estimates he spends between $50,000 and $100,000annually to get information, such as tips on the whereabouts ofstars and other facts about their lives.

His partner earned about $250,000 for the tell-tale imageof Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe walking together in Santa Monicaas the two were rumored to be having a fling. Griffin said thatphoto "cost" them about $13,000 in payments for tips.