Max Cisotti CEO of Xclusivepix.com writes…

In another of our occasional series of guest posts Max Cisotti CEO at Xclusivepix.com. A hugely experienced agent and photographer, he has allowed us to re-post something that he wrote around the time of the Leveson Inquiry about who and what the paparazzi are and about the symbiotic relationship between good photographers and the celebrity industry.

I believe that as an almost accidental byproduct of the Leveson Inquiry into criminal wrong-doing by other elements of the press, I and my colleagues have been utterly traduced, painted as morally unscrupulous scavengers feeding on unsuspecting celebrities.

With the odd exception – and no profession is perfect – I simply don’t recognise this description. In private, I am bound together with the same celebrities that in public complain about us, all part of the complex modern marketing dance. Paparazzi are not parasites living off the famous, but both essential to each other. We are not the buzzing insects that the film director Fellini named us after, although as a fan of La Dolce Vita I suppose I should be flattered that my job is named after a character in such an iconic movie.

I became a paparazzo because it was more exciting than news journalism. You start out by waiting outside restaurants and clubs. In my day – and I’m no longer a full time photographer – it would be San Lorenzo or The Ivy. No one famous goes to these places without expecting and hoping that they will be photo- graphed. There are thousands of restaurants in London where you’d never find a photographer, so you only go to the few that do have them if you are in search of the spotlight.

But there are still examples of hypocrisy. Just before Kate Middleton’s wedding, her mother and sister had lunch at San Lorenzo. Three photographers were having a sandwich out- side and saw them go in. When they left, they walked a few yards down the street and into Bruce Oldfield, where they were obviously discussing dresses for the wedding. They could be easily seen through the window and some pictures were taken. The Middletons then made a huge fuss about their privacy being invaded, but honestly they almost went out of their way to be recognized and followed.

The next stage of the journey to becoming a paparazzo is building contacts. If you stand outside anywhere long enough and you are pleasant enough you build up a relationship. Myself and a few other colleagues, we wore out the pavement outside San Lorenzo. So we did build up a relationship with the restaurant. That’s the first step to building your network of informants.

Then you need to learn to fit in. I always tell my photographers, be as smart as you possibly can. Some years ago I was photographing the Spice Girls outside Dolce and Gabbana in Sloane Street. They came over to talk to me and told me how well I scrubbed up. I’ve chatted to Victoria Beckham on other occasions too, and my relationship with most celebrities was positive and not at all antagonistic. You become part of their landscape and they don’t mind at all.

Paparazzi are not parasites living off the famous, but both essential to each other.

Of course, in the evening, getting photographs outside the clubs, it can be a bit of a scrum, but that’s largely for technical reasons. With flash photography at night, you have to get very close to someone to be sure of a decent photograph, which makes it look a lot more aggressive and nasty than it is.

Of course there are occasions when you don’t want to be seen by the celebrity and they don’t want to see you. The public want to see famous people behaving naturally, to have the illusion that they have a window on their lives, that they are not just posing for the camera, and that’s the reason for most of the long lens work, so that they don’t change their behaviour. Of course, it could be that they are having an affair or have something else to hide, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

If the photograph is taken on public property, then it’s fair game. If you are on private property then we’ll walk away.

That’s also the appeal of holiday photos, partly it’s seeing good looking people in a bikini, but also the public want to see them in their natural state, it’s a similar sense to seeing animals in a zoo or on safari. All famous people know the deal, and if they don’t want to be photographed with their kit off, then they don’t go topless.

Of course I feel sorry for Kate and William, and I would never have taken those pictures as they were clearly somewhere where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, which is the hurdle we have to jump in Britain. But honestly, they must know that there are photographers everywhere and as we can see there are always going to be media outlets somewhere in the world that will publish photographs even if they are an obvious invasion of privacy.

Most celebrities, however, are more likely to invade their own privacy than have someone else do it for them. About 40 per cent of apparently snatched paparazzi photographs are actually setups, organised through an agent or sometimes directly with the celebs themselves, a process that in America they call mockerrazzi. It’s partly about marketing – they’ve got a new car for free and need to promote it, they have a film coming out and so on.

And in part it’s about money, the photographers will share the proceeds with the subjects. I’ve often done this, even with major A-list celebs, and the money can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. It’s a major source of income and everyone is a winner. Not that this is a new concept, it was invented by the Hollywood studios with Clark Gable and Rudolf Valentino in the Twenties and Thirties.

Now there are celebrities who from time to time don’t want any coverage. But when I listened to Hugh Grant’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry, I’m afraid I did think he was a hypocrite. Here is someone who became famous for what his girlfriend was wearing at the premiere of a film, then a few years later was arrested with a prostitute in Los Angeles. Now today he’s more than happy to talk about his private life when it suits him, but not when it doesn’t. But I don’t see why the media should only cover the famous when given permission to do so.

I’m often asked what my ethical red lines are, as a photographer. Everyone in the industry will give you a different answer, but I have always abided, even before the Press Complaints Commission existed, but the rule of reasonable expectation of privacy. If the photograph is taken on public property, then its fair game. If you are on private property then we’ll walk away. And sometimes you just know that a photograph, even in a public place, is unfair.

Perhaps the single most traumatic moment for my profession was the death of Diana, paparazzi were blamed for her death at the time and her sons still blame us.

My business partner and I were in Hyde Park some years ago, we’d had a tip that Lady Helen Taylor was regularly taking her kids to and we’d been waiting there for three days. Then there she was, pushing her youngest in a pram when she hit a pothole and the child fell on the pavement and cut its head. We could have sold the photographs for ten of thousands of pounds but it wouldn’t have been right, we both just looked at each other and walked away.

The profession is changing, however, and not always for the better. There are far more photographers than there used to be. I remember travelling to Los Angeles in the late Nineties, and there were only 20-30 photographers covering the entire area. We went one day to Malibu and there were so many many celebs I didn’t know which way to turn – should I shoot Cindy Crawford or Rod Steiger first? People were making fortunes, but now the market has changed completely, there are something like 3oo-400 photographers covering the la area and competiton is intense.

Partly, it’s about technology. Back then, you actually had to know what you were doing with a camera. And it was much more expensive, because you had to buy and develop the film. Today really good digital cameras have made the process much more accessible, anyone can get one and set themselves up as a paparazzo. I think we should consider making some kind of training compulsory – as in Italy and France – before you can get a press card.

The other big change, of course, is the market. There are many more outlets, both online and in print, for celebrity photographs. When I began, there were just the papers, then there was Hello magazine, and now there are around ten weekly women’s celebrity magazines in the uk alone.

But that doesn’t mean that we are all making more money, because not only are there more photographers out there working, but celebrities now often publish candid photographs of themselves on Twitter.

This summer, Rihanna was touring the Mediterranean with friends on a yacht, they went to Sardinia and St Tropez, and of course they were followed by photographers, but she also posted lots of her own photos on Twitter, and when the Daily Mirror published a spread on her, they used her photos, not the paps’ shots. It kept their costs down, and of course she had chosen the photographs that they used.

Perhaps the single most traumatic moment for my profession was the death of Diana. Paparazzi were blamed for her death at the time and hers sons still blame us. And there is no doubt that she was hounded by photographers, but no one forced her to speed through a tunnel without wearing a seat belt, and she was staying at The Ritz where she could expect to be followed when she left. I think time has given us more of a perspective on what happened.

At that moment, however, it looked like my profession was finished. For three to four months, newspapers didn’t publish a single paparazzi photograph. But then the News of the World, may it rest in peace, broke the taboo, and we all went back to where we had been before. Which was a relief for us of course, but also for the celebrities who hadn’t been getting the coverage they were used to.

Now something similar is happening again in Britain, as a result of the Leveson Inquiry. Newspapers are buying far fewer celebrity photographs, and the price for those that are bought has fallen as well.

I do feel some resentment about this. My business has suffered because of a limited amount of illegal activity by people I had no connection with at all. Now this inquiry does seem like a sledgehammer to crack a nut – after all, there haven’t been similar inquiries into far greater disasters like the banking crash.

Unfortunately, my profession has done a bad job of representing itself to Lord Leveson, so much so that I doubt he has a clue how our business works. The trouble is we are so fragmented, with lots of small companies, agencies and freelance photographers.

Almost by definition, paparazzi are not joiners, not mainstream, most of us have thrived in the profession because we like working alone or with a very limited number of partners. So we haven’t managed to put across our viewpoint at all. So I’d like to suggest that Lord Leveson, and anyone else inclined to judge the paparazzi, consider the complex media ecosystem he is attempting to reform, and ensure that if he is going to try to wreck our livelihood, he does us the credit of trying to understand it first.

Who has what’s required ?

Here’s what the late, great Sir David English, who created the modern Daily Mail, had to say about newspaper photographers. (thanks to Dave Parker)

” Press photographers are a strange breed. Moody, enthusiastic, temperamental, excitable, humorous, self-deprecating . They are in many ways the most interesting collection of people to be found on any national newspaper. More interesting frequently than the star bylined writers. More interesting than the gossip columnists with their fund of inside chatter. More interesting even than the showbiz kings with their stories of rubbing shoulders with the great and their `all life´s a cocktail party´ philosophy. Photographers are the shock troops of journalism. They cannot muse. They cannot pontificate. They cannot sit in the office and get their stories by telephone. Nor do they pick up their scoops over lunch. They have to be where the action is. They have to be there! “

And here’s what Roy Greenslade Professor (no less) of journalism had to say about newspaper photographers.

“Everyone can, and does, take photographs as a matter of rote nowadays.No event occurs – fires, fetes, road accidents, cats up trees, whatever – without someone being on hand to snap a picture. In the real sense of the word, newspaper photographers are therefore redundant.

I concede that standing outside court for ages to capture an image of a defendant or witness may still require a professional (enter the experienced freelance). Otherwise, for the general run of the news diary, anyone can do it.”

I think we all know who has/had the better understanding of the qualities required to do the job .

The idea that because almost everyone has a camera and takes pictures means you no longer need photographers has a logical conclusion. Almost everyone can write and has a pen.

Newspapers are always on the look out to cut costs… to make a few more quid for the shareholders. I mean you wouldn’t expect them to have last year’s reg car would you. But no business will ever profit by making cuts. That’s short-termism. You have to speculate and invest to accumulate. That’s not just my opinion. Ask billionaire Warren Buffet. Stupid managements make stupid cuts which affect their product the newspaper. The product suffers and the advertisers leave in droves driving profit further down. Stupid management then implement more cuts to increase the dividend which affects the product and the advertisers leave in droves driving profit down further. It’s a cycle of stupidity.

The demand for visuals is higher than it has ever been. More photographs and videos are used than ever before. Newspaper websites need photographs, 360’s, time-lapses, videos, slideshows….these are the things that attract an audience and advertisers.

So who are the best people to deliver these things. Easy answer really. It’s not the columnists.

It’s us. The photographers.

Commentating on the race to the bottom

Yet again The BPPA finds itself responding to a piece by Professor Roy Greenslade on The Guardian’s website. Yet again Professor Greenslade adds his influential voice to the drastically mistaken notion that anyone can take a picture good enough for a newspaper these days. Seriously? Have you looked at some of the utter rubbish that gets used in some of our newspapers? To assert that anyone with a camera can take a picture isn’t only an insult to the skilled photographers who make silk purses out of sows ears on a daily basis it also invites the bean-counters who are behind the decisions to axe photographers jobs to question the need for written journalists too.

I can just imagine the conversation between the accountants and the owners with an editor sitting there listening to the conversation;

Owner: We need to save some more money. Sales are still in decline and sacking the photographers hasn’t saved us enough.

Accountant: Well, members of the public are providing all of our visual content so maybe we can get them to supply the words too.

Editor: But…

Owner: Brilliant idea. Let’s start with all of the senior reporters who really know what they are doing. Editor – we need you to sell this to the staff.

Editor: But…

Owner: They’re all scared for their jobs anyway. Accountant – you are a genius and you will be rewarded for your work with a big pay rise.

Editor: But…

Accountant: Thanks Owner, maybe we should discuss a few other money-saving ideas that I have over a drink or two. Do we NEED editors?

How long will it be before expensive columnists get their marching orders in favour of a few blokes with word processing software who “can write a bit”? Who will those people actually be? Will they be honest and concerned citizens or will they be people with an agenda and an axe to grind?

We are already at the stage where a large percentage of the ‘supplied’ images being printed in some papers are not properly checked for honesty, accuracy or ownership (not to mention quality). Beyond that, nobody seems to care whether members of the public are putting their own or other people’s lives in danger to get the pictures that they are giving away for free. Even Professor Greenslade has to agree that journalism stands or falls on its honesty and accuracy even if he has already thrown the towel in on quality.

One of the numerous responses to his Media Guardian article points out that very few people remember the words after the event compared to the number who remember the images. You might think that newspaper owners would forget this at their peril – unfortunately they have forgotten and their newspapers are in peril. Another response points out that newspaper decline could well be a chicken and egg discussion. Which did come first – the fall in sales or the loss of photographers?

This is rapidly becoming a race to the bottom and it really doesn’t help the case for quality newspapers and quality journalism when one of the highest profile commentators on the industry has given up on any notion of defending the simple idea that quality products have longevity and cheap ones don’t. We’d wonder if The Guardian’s own Picture Desk team would agree with The Professor’s odd logic or if its own sub-editors would approve of his fact checking.

Losing reporters would be the largest and most recent nail in the coffin of local and regional journalism. National newspapers, radio and television get a lot of their best people from the superb training ground that is (or maybe was) local journalism.

If I were contemplating training as a journalist right now I think that I’d have second thoughts about it. If the learned Professor is right maybe those currently on his course should consider switching to accountancy before it’s too late.

Press Photographers Association of Ireland 2014

In a guest blog Mirror Staff Photographer Phil Coburn talks about his recent trip to Dublin:

Thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Dublin judging The Press Photographers Association of Ireland’s annual awards with Lefteris Pitarakis of the The Associated Press and the esteemed former Irish Times photographer and picture editor, Dermot O’Shea. Great competition with superb photojournalism. Great support and sponsorship from the Allied Irish Bank, too, which puts a decent amount of money behind it and makes the whole thing run extremely smoothly and professionally. The winning photographs of this competition have toured all over the world in the past but more importantly this years winners will also be shown in all the main regional branches of the AIB, bringing really high-quality press  photography to thousands of people who aren’t necessarily photography buffs. It would be wonderful if we could have some similar support and sponsorship for the B.P.P.A. or the P.P.Y. competition on this side of the water.

© Colm Mahady/Fennells

© Colm Mahady/Fennells
Ray Mc Manus, President Press Photographers Association of Ireland (PPAI), with members of the judging panel, award wining photographer Lefteris Pitarakis, Associated Press Photographer, Tom Kinsella, Group Marketing Director AIB, (sponsor) Dermot O’ Shea, former Picture Editor, Chair of the judging panel and Philip Coburn award-winning photographer Daily Mirror / Sunday Mirror Photographer.

© Colm Mahady/Fennells

© Colm Mahady/Fennells

© Colm Mahady/Fennells

© Colm Mahady/Fennells

© Vicky Comerford

© Vicky Comerford

© Vicky Comerford

© Vicky Comerford

Mirror Staff Photographer Phil Coburn.

Anyone for….No I can’t call it that !

So another Wimbledon Tennis Championship is over. O.K so it was over ages ago but I’ve only just recovered enough to look through my pictures again.

What an extraordinary championship it was. I’ve covered it for about 8 years and despite believing our one hope Andy Murray is a fantastic tennis player, I never truly believed he’d make the final. The night Murray won the semi-final I was walking to the car-park with Sports Photography legend David Ashdown. I asked him how many years he’d been covering Wimbledon “34 years ” came the reply. “Did you ever think you’d see a Brit in the Final ?” , “No” he said.

When Nadal went out early it started to look good for Murray but he still faced stiff competition. We all started to speculate on what an enormous story this event in a small part of South London could turn into firstly if he made The Final and secondly if he won it. History in the making.

From a Newspaper Photographer’s point of view there is a lot more to covering Wimbledon than what is jokingly referred to as “Bat and Ball”.

To begin with you have to follow the main man Murray whenever he trains and not just during matches. Training often gives a little insight into the ‘Dour’ Scot. Contrary to this persona he is often smiling and laughing during these sessions on the practice courts at ‘Aorangi Park’ where the public are denied entrance. One of the staff there even mentioned to Cavan Pawson from The Evening Standard that this relaxed side was even more evident when we were not around. There is much anecdotal evidence that he is in fact the opposite of ‘Dour’ and other players have mentioned how much of a comedian he is in private. There’s no denying he has a ‘Public’ face which very rarely slips. A friend of mine in Yorkshire offered me a crate of Beer for a picture of Murray smiling on Centre Court. If he’d have won I think I’d be awaiting delivery.

Andy Murray training where after which he laughed and cuddled his cousin Cora Erskine(9)
Murray training on one of The Championship Courts
Murray training on one of The Championship Courts
Murray warming up on one of The Championship Courts he looks like he might be regretting his Lamb Dhansak the night before.
Those sponsor’s sweatshirts can be a bit tricky.
Happy Smiley Scotsman.

One of the biggest distractions from the Tennis In our celebrity led industry are the guests who turn up in ‘The Royal Box’ frequently generating more interest than those on court. Following Catherine Middleton’s wedding to our future King last year the presence of her and members of her family has become a major event at the contest.

Pippa and Kate in The Royal Box.
The Duchess of Cambridge.
Pippa and Kate
…and again…
Even the In-laws turned up for a chat with Brucie ” Good game good game”

It should be straightforward enough really. Sit in one of the Photographer’s pits with a 600mm or a 600mm and a 2x converter (1200mm) and watch your celebrity/Royal subject react to every shot of the game. Err..NO.

Kim Sears watches boyfriend Andy.

Not quite The Royal Box but still Centre Court for Kate’s Mum
Rupert and Wendi

To begin with The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club does not approve of it’s VIP’s being spied on for every second of their visit. You simply can’t sit there watching them. There is also the fact that a 600mm is quite a large piece of kit and if you imagine a line of closely packed Sports specialist Photographers on a bench with everyone pointing their cameras right except for one News Photographer pointing the other way. It’s a sure fire way to lose friends and alienate people. So you compromise. You shoot the Tennis (it is after all why you are there) but when the players rest between games and sets then you turn your attention to the guests. It’s not ideal but it is necessary. The other difficulty is that despite having fellow Telegraph Photographer Heathcliff O’Malley accredited and in attendance the rules only allow one from each organisation on court at a time. This is to prevent the big agencies flooding the limited spaces with shooters from every corner of the world. So when you are on court you have to do both the sport and the news.

It wouldn’t be Wimbledon without the rain…
..or the fans

Oh and a bit of ‘Bat and Ball’

Maria Sharapova on Centre Court

Mr Murray in action

The other British hope Heather Watson.

Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka
The nemesis of Andy, Roger Federer.

Petra Kvitova

Akgul Amanmuradova with Centre Court reflected.

The unstoppable Serena Williams.

Another hitch is the fact that during the breaks in play when the players are seated is also the best time to shoot the expressions on their faces as they contemplate the shots they’ve just made and consider how they will try and win. They are often lost in their thoughts and their faces can sometimes speak volumes. Pictures which are a hundred times better than one of Cliff Richard clapping.

Heather Watson between shots

Andy Murray after losing to Federer in The Men’s Final.

The greatest Dilemma with a Brit in The Final was if he is winning who do you watch at Match-Point ? Andy Murray or Catherine Duchess of Cambridge. Whose reaction will make the front page ? 2 seconds after the Match-Point is not THE moment, 1 second after and the reaction has already changed. You decide.

Andy winning…before The Final

Federer at Match-Point

The ‘Potshots’

More photographers in the crowd than in the Pit

Thankfully (or regrettably ) Mr Federer made the choice irrelevant. So after 14 days of  following our favourite Scotsman around SW19 we watched as his emotions overflowed and he left Centre Court with the runner up prize. Better luck Next Year Andy.

The tears after losing.

As a little side project Heathcliff and myself shot some bits and bobs around the Championship on our i.Phones. I used the Instagram app and Heathcliff used Hipstamatic.

These are a few of my fav’s there are more at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/picture-galleries/9379006/Wimbledon-2012-Telegraph-photographers-Instagram-and-Hipstamatic-photos.html

Murray training.

Rainy Centre Court.