Paparazzi History

October 30th, 2013

The history of the paparazzi photographer

If you were to see a casual photographer around town and called him a paparazzi, beware; he might be tempted to throw his camera at you, especially if he considers himself to be a photojournalist. So what’s the difference you may ask? The answer is in the meaning of paparazzi, “buzzing insects.”

In 1960, these pesky freelance journalists were immortalized in Federico Fellini‘s internationally popular film La Dolce VitaItalian for “The Sweet Life.”  La Dolce Vita focuses on the life of a jaded journalist, Marcello (played by Marcello Mastroianni), and his photographer colleague, Paparazzo (Walter Santesso). The origin of the name Paparazzo is disputed, but its onomatopoeic resemblance to the Sicilian word for an oversize mosquito, papataceo, made it apt to compare with Fellini’s statement: “Paparazzo suggests to me a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging.” Fellini also drew an image of the character in which he describes; the drawing is of a human-like figure that has no bone structure and instead, looks like a vampirish insect, implying that paparazzi, like mosquitoes, are also parasites.

After the movie was first released in Italy, the word paparazzi became synonymous with intrusive photographers who chase the stars to get that revealing act on film. However, Fellini said it was not the photographers he tried to emulate. Fellini claimed that he was putting newspapers and weeklies on film, and many of the vignettes that make up the movie refer directly to news stories. He wanted to capture the paparazzi-inspired events where reporters often begged involved parties for a story. However, it was the freezing-frenzied movements in the pictures captured by the photographer that sparked viewer interest, even for Fellini. “It recreates life in movement,” he once stated.

The incorporation of the word paparazzi into the English language is indefinitely tied to La Dolce Vita when it was released in the United States in 1961. Time magazine introduced the word to the American public in an article entitled, “Paparazzi on the Prowl.” Included is a paparazzi picture of throngs of reporters blocking the car of a princess visiting Rome. The text discloses “a ravenous wolf pack of freelance photographers who stalk big names for a living and fire with flash guns at a point-blank.” Soon, the term would be spread across the pages of major news and entertainment publications across the globe, often accompanied by incriminating photos of the stars. Publications that were soon to follow this trend included Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and Life magazine. It was later introduced on the television screen by popular news-oriented shows like 60 Minutes. But no matter what the medium used to report on these “celebrity bounty hunters,” it was clear that paparazzo was a derogative term.

One of the on-going issues underlining the very existence of the paparazzi include their intrusive behavior that have taken away many individual’s rights to privacy. This issue has caused many people to question the legalities and moral right of their profession: are they photographers or are they stalkers?

Many people have expressed their feelings for the paparazzi in various ways. Those who claim the paparazzi are stalkers say they have gone too far by trying to get that exclusive shot. It has been said that they “make a career out of pushing their way into other people’s lives in a way that makes them repugnant.” Such actions have given them the title of “modern-day bounty hunters,” carrying cameras instead of guns, who go where the stars are in search of a photo that will sell.

Those who express disgust for the paparazzi have made extensive pleas to the government by lobbying for laws that will make it a misdemeanour to publish photographs taken without permission. Their argument for such laws reflects the ideal of equality, testifying that public figures are human beings also, and they deserve the right to privacy like everyone else. Furthermore, they shout that the paparazzi frequently use illegal actions to gain admission into the private lives of many celebrities. Such violations include breaking and entering, the use of trickery, impersonation, fraud and disguise.

Those who defend the paparazzi say they have a first amendment right to take photos of any celebrity. It lies within that realm of journalism we call “news gathering,” which is protected within the clause of “freedom of the press.” But there are some photojournalists who contend that the paparazzi are not real journalists.

“The majority of professional photojournalists are highly educated, not only in the use of a camera, but also in journalism skills. Their training includes classes on communication, law and, most importantly, ethics…. To lump these dedicated individuals together with paparazzi is hurtful and unfair.”

In defense of the paparazzi, many journalist figure that celebrities voluntarily surrender their right to privacy as part of an unwritten contract with the members of society who pay their salaries as fans. David Cuthbert, a reporter for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, said that both celebrities and the paparazzi feed off each other. In other words, one doesn’t exist without the other.

“Celebrities preen for photographers only when it suits their purpose. When it does not, they hide their faces, engage in public prowls and haul photojournalists into court. Each needs the other, but it’s a love-hate affair, an apache dance lit by strobe light.

Paparazzo Alan Zanger said that photographers are not at fault, but instead, celebrities invite the paparazzi attention through lavish lifestyles.

“These people earn lots of money. They are very promiscuous with their love affairs. That leads to these pictures being taken,” Zanger said. “We don’t provoke their affairs. We photograph it.”

Celebrity Paparazzi stories


A photographer confronted Alec Baldwin and wife, Kim Basinger, as they brought their newborn daughter home from the hospital to their Hollywood abode. Baldwin was arrested after freelance photographer, Alan Zanger, alleged that the angry actor gave him a black eye. A jury acquitted Baldwin for misdemeanor charges in March 1996.


Actor George Clooney, upset about a broadcast of his girlfriend, urged a boycott of Paramount Pictures becasue of its tabloid TV shows’ use of “video paparazzi” footage. Clooney claims that paparazzi peered into his house and took pictures of him and his girlfriend, which was later aired on Entertainment Tonight and Hard Copy.


Earlier this year,Johnny Depp chased off photographers in London with a piece of wood outside a restaurant. The Sun reported that Depp “flipped out” and started screaming obscenities when photographers tried to take his picture.


During the filming of Evita in Argentina, paparazzi paid small children to lie down in front of her car so she might accidentally run them over; when they stopped the car, the paparazzi went on a shooting spree. When she married Sean Penn in 1985, overweening paparazzi attention provoked a series of altercations that eventually led to Penn serving one month in the L.A. County jail for assualting a photographer. They divorced in 1989, but not because of the paparazzi.


In late 1995, Robert DeNiro was accused by camerman Joseph Ligier of pining him against an automobile outside a Manhattan bar, demanding that he hand over the video. According to Ligier, DeNiro “snapped.” Ligier would not give up the camera, claiming he had footage of Julia Roberts on the same tape. Charges were eventually dismissed by the victim.


Woody Harrelson went to court for allegedly assaulting two aggressive cameramen during Ted Danson’s wedding at Martha’s Vineyard in 1995. Technically Harrelson lost the case when the judge ruled in favour of Hard Copy video cameraman Paul Adao and Star magazine photographer Steve Connolly. Harrelson told the judge that he was only trying to protect his daughter from being photographed. Adao won $1 in damages; Connolly was awarded $2,558 to cover medical bills and to replace his camera and film. The biggest winner, however, was lawyer Lee M. Berger; the federal judge ordered Harrelson to pay nearly $80,000 in lawyer fees and expenses–about $200 per hour for time spent on the case.


Last April, George Michael was caught with his pants down in a Beverly Hills bathroom. Michael told The Advocate magazine he suspects that a photographer tipped off cops in order to sell photos that had been taken of him at the park a year earlier. Michael said the photographer was unable to sell the shirtless shots until the pop star was caught in the act–then, they were worth $100,000.


Almost one year ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger and pregnant wife, Maria Shriver, were ambushed by celebrity photographers and trapped in their Mercedes-Benz between two cars piloted.

Who are the people who buy the pictures?

There is a wave of accordance to the one thing that motivates the paparazzi: money. But who’s to blame for the intrusive behavior of the paparazzi? The photographers themselves? The celebrities? Tabloid newspapers? The people who buy the tabloids?

Have you ever browsed through the Globe or National Enquirer while standing at the checkout counter? Do you religiously watch Hard Copy and Entertainment Tonight to get the latest information on your favourite celebrities? Or have you ever bought People magazine so you can show friends and families the compromising photos of well-respected celebrities? If you confess to doing any of the three described situations, chances are that you are guilty of promoting paparazzi behaviour.

Sue Cater, associate professor of journalism at Michigan State University, claims that the paparazzi is a segment of journalism that is market driven, saying the larger the demand, the more aggressive the paparazzi. She added that “the people who buy paparazzi material are taking a role in the entire process.” (1)

It goes without question that the tragedy of Princess Diana‘s death refocused Hollywood’s mounting fury over the paparazzi’s increasingly ruthless tactics. Initially, society pointed fingers at the media blaming them with creating a market for celebrity reporting. How? Because they are the ones that are shelling out hundreds and thousands of dollars for these celebrity shots. For example, it was reported that pictures of Diana and Dodi, kissing on a yacht in St. Tropez , sold in the United States for $200,000. Also, paparazzi pictures of the fatal car crash were being offered around the world for $1 million. (2) Now there is no more Diana to take pictures of, and there are those who say the public is partly responsible.

“If readers hadn’t waited in the supermarkets to get the newest tabloid issue that had her picture, there would be no group of photographers in high-speed chase to get another picture of the couple, ” said one student reporter at Clarkson University.(3)

He also adds in the same opinions article that, indirectly, all of us may be to blame for Princess Diana’s death.

“We were not there, we weren’t chasing them. But we do thrive on celebrities. We can only blame the paparazzi for so long. As long as we continue to watch and read those tabloid, we are just as guilt as any of them.”

Many others around the world have echoed the same thoughts, even those related to Princess Diana.

According to Charles Spencer, Diana’s brother, “Every proprietor and editor of every publication that have paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her has blood on his hands.”

One reporter summed everything up in an online editorial, suggesting that the primary source of the paparazzi could be you or me. “Unless consumers are willing to give up this unholy addition, there will always be some photographer eager to risk everything for that one shot that could make them millionaires, and there will always be enough newspapers around the world ready to pay the price.”

If you are unsure of whether you are a contributor to the paparazzi existence, here is a list of popular tabloid publications and shows that are known to use paparazzi clips and photos. Most of them have been on celebrity lists as the “tabloids” to boycott:

CARETAS magazine (Peru)

E! Entertainment Television (TV tabloid)


Entertainment Tonight

France Dimanche (French tabloid)

Frecuencia Latina (Peru)

Hard Copy

ICI Paris (French tabloid)

News of the World (British)

Paramount Studios Owners/Producers of Hard Copy and Entertainment Tonight

Paris Match (French tabloid)

People Magazine

Prive Magazine (Dutch gossip magazine)

Story Magazine (Dutch gossip magazine)

The Daily Mail (British)

The Examiner (US tabloid)

The Globe (US tabloid)

The Mirror (British)

The National Enquirer (US tabloid)

The New Idea (Australian magazine)

The New Weekly (Australian magazine)

The Star (British)

The Star (US tabloid)

The Sun (British tabloid)

The Sunday Mirror (British)

The Weekly World News (tabloid)

TV Weekly (Australian magazine)

Weekend Magazine (Dutch tabloid)

Woman’s Day (New Zealand magazine)

Woman’s Weekly (Australian magazine)

Woman’s Weekly (New Zealand magazine)

Calls for retaliation

SEPTEMBER 1996       George Clooney lead a boycott against Entertainment Tonight and Hard Copy because of the latter’s use of paparazzi footage of him and his girlfriend. Clooney has charged that the tabloid media has failed to take its “share” of the responsibility for the death of Princess Diana. Many celebrities have approached him because of his previous fight, to hold a Press Conference. These celebrities included Madonna, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert DeNiro, and Whoopi Goldberg. Paparazzi refused to shoot pictures of George Clooney at the opening of “The Peacemaker” in New York, standing together quietly to protest the actor’s criticism of photographers who chase stars.

AUGUST 1997  Steve Coz, editor if the National Enquirer, urges all media to join the them in boycotting publications that publishes photos of Diana’s fatal accident.

SEPTEMBER 1997       State Senator Charles M.Calderon proposes to establish a 15-foot “bubble zone between photographers and their subjects. The idea was taken form similar restrictions imposed on anti-abortion protestors outside abortion clinics. The U.S. Supreme Court declares buffer zones to be unconstitutional. Certain justices claim they constitute an overbroad attempt at restricting free speech.

FEBRUARY 1998          Sharon Stone and Richard Dreyfuss were among the stars who helped Senator Dianne Feinstein and a team of lawyers draft the Personal Privacy Bill to beintroduced in the Senate. The bill, which was presented at a news conference at the Screen Actors Guild offices, would preserve the right to photograph celebrities in public and sell the film, but crack down on actions that could jeopardize their safety.

It forbids “persistent chasing or following” which would be a crime punishable by up to a year in prison, at least five years if bodily harm resulted and 20 years if a death occurred. It also updates the definition of trespassing to including zoom lenses, a provision intended to stop photographers from peering into bedrooms and gardens.

OCTOBER 1998           California Governor Pete Wilson signs a bill forbidding “constructive trespassing.” The bill defines invasion of privacy as trespassing with the intent to capture audio or video of a public figure while engaged in a personal activity. It allows that victim to recover damages form not only the paparazzi, but also the news organization that use their services. The law has been opposed by the media, which views it as an infringement on their right to gather news

JANUARY 1999            Hollywood stars celebrate the introduction of a strict new law that they hope will protect them from photographers known as paparazzi. The law prohibits the filming or recording of anyone “engaging in personal or family activity in circumstances where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy.” Photographers can also be charged if the subject feels “in physical jeopardy.”


THE PAPARAZZI STOPPER       On March 24, 1998, the “Paparazzi Stopper” made its debut at the Invention Convention in Los Angeles. Philadelphia scientist Joseph Resnick invented the miniature electronic device that contains sensors and transmitters which cause interference between the photographer and subject, resulting in complete absence of images on film negatives. It is triggered by a photographic flash and can be clipped on to a baseball cap, necklace or lapel of a jacket. It is listed at $500.

PAPARAZZI PICTURES A website that gives surfers the opportunity to voice their opinion about the paparazzi. Included is a link of example photos. Since Diana’s death, there have been numerous web pages designed for “paparazzi bashing.”

The Princess Diana Story

On August 30, 1997, Britain awoke to news that would change the countenance of the world: Diana, Princess of Wales, was officially pronounced dead. Within minutes, the nation was grieving; within hours, the world was morning. Throughout the day, people around the globe stopped in motion, with wide, teary eyes and open jaws, as they passed by their television sets to listen to continuous news reports of this tragic event. So what exactly happened, and how is the paparazzi involved?


Pursued by hungry-driven paparazzi on all side, Diana’s Mercedes Benz sedan crashed shortly after midnight Paris time (3 p.m. Pacific time) in a tunnel along the Seine River at the Pont de l’Alma bridge. KFWB News Radio in Paris reported that the car had reached speeds of around 80 and 120 mph while trying to evade paparazzi photographers on motorcycles. Travelling in a 35 mph zone, the car slammed into a concrete post, and spun and hit a tunnel wall before crumpling in a mass of twisted steel. The damage was extensive: the front of the car was destroyed and the roof cave into seat level.

Diana’s millionaire boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, 42, and the chauffeur, Henri Paul, 41, was pronounced dead at the scene. The fourth occupant, Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, survived the crash, but was initially hospitalized in critical condition. He suffered a head contusion, a lung injury and facial injuries.

According to television reports, it took rescue crews an hour and a half to pry Diana, 36, from the mangled car and transport her to a nearby hospital. There, doctors spent two hours trying to save her life. She was pronounced dead at 7 p.m. Pacific Time–approximately four hours after the crash.

Although the official cause of death was reported as cardiac arrest, it was said that Diana had major chest wounds, including a severe injury to her left lung. She also had a serious thigh wound. But ultimately, it was her heart that led to her fatality: doctors said they were unable to revive her once the heart had failed.

News reports stated that Diana and Fayed had recently dined at the Hotel Ritz one hour before the accident. They left Hotel Ritz en route to a townhouse, but not without making attempts to deter the paparazzi. A spokeswoman for the Hotel Ritz told the Associated Press that Paul, a former French Air Force pilot, was the hotel’s No.2 security man, but he was not Fayed’s regular driver. Fayed’s driver had left earlier in another vehicle as a decoy to throw photographers off the trail. But obviously, the plan did not work. Witnesses said photographers had surrounded the Mercedes sedan before it even entered the 300-yeard, brick-lined tunnel,just north of the Eiffel Tower.


Before medical emergency units had arrived on the scene, witnesses had already sentenced the paparazzi to death, and shortly, so did the world. It was evident they would take the rap for this one. The paparazzi were the first ones blamed for Diana’s death. Immediately after the crash, or should I say within seconds, the paparazzi was physically and verbally attacked, not just for taking pictures, but for not offering their assistance to aid the victims. Ultimately, they took all they blame, even after surprising evidence suggested they might not be at fault.

French police said they had detained for questioning six French and one Macedonian photographer who were following Diana’s car early Sunday when it crashed. Although it was never stated what they would be charged with, they were investigated for violating France’s “Good Samaritan Law.” The law makes it a crime when one fails to help someone in danger. The paparazzi were also convicted by local citizens for not adhering to this moral law. A passerby told CNN that horrified witnesses had beaten one photographer at the scene before he was taken into police custody. Others just yelled and scowled at them for continuing to take pictures.

After confiscating two motorcycles, a scooter and 20 rolls of film from the photographers, authorities halted their investigation of Diana’s death after receiving shocking news report: the driver was drunk. The Paris prosecutor’s office had released a statement citing the chauffeur’s blood test analysis was above the legal level. Although they did not give detailed numbers, an anonymous source told AP that Henri Paul’s alcohol level was 1.75 grams per liter of blood–three times the legal limit in France. That is well above the legal limits.

But no matter how intoxicated the driver, the paparazzi were the ones solely prosecuted by many of nations. It is evident that Diana’s death increased greatly the disgust and anger directed towards the paparazzi. Even ex-anchorman Walter Cronkite conceded on Dateline NBC that “the paparazzi are getting a bum rap on this one.” And that they did. Many argued that their intrusive and animalistic tactics contributed to the event and caused the driver to speed. Others have said that pursuers went too far in trying to take a picture. And finally, there are those who attest that Diana would still be with us today, had the paparazzi not been chasing her.

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