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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today is the day when the UK Government could vote to include a seemingly innocuous clause in an otherwise largely uncontroversial piece of legislation that will not only harm our industry but also place this country at odds with a vital international treaty. It is upsetting, bizarre and unnecessary to the point of being farcical.
The BPPA has been trying very hard to get the Government to see sense and drop the copyright clause from the Enterprise Regulatory Reform Bill for a while now. In a world where the intervention of a celebrity can unclog jams and open doors we decided to ask UK Photography’s biggest celebrity, David Bailey, to write to cabinet members on behalf of all owners and creators of intellectual property. He decided to write to George Osborne MP, The Chancellor of the Exchequer personally and he has given us permission to circulate that letter as widely as we wish – and here it is…
The text of the letter in full:
I am writing because I am appalled at what the government is doing to our rights in the ERRB (Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill). Why the ERRB by the way? Why can’t copyright be dealt with properly in a proper Copyright Bill? I’m told everyone will be able to get their hands on our so-called “orphans” so libraries and museums can publish old photographs whose authors have long been forgotten. But never mind what’s lying around on dusty old shelves, what about the millions of “orphans” that are being created now every day!
Why? Because social media, and everyone else for that matter routinely strip our names and contact details from our digital files. They simply should not be allowed to get away with this. They can because our government refuses to give us the right to our names by our pictures (Moral rights). So now commercial organisations will be allowed to make money from our “orphans”, but not us, the creators.
This legislation should never have been even considered without first giving us our moral rights, and is contrary to our rights under the Berne Convention. Why the rush? A scheme, the Copyright Hub – a scheme backed by the government – is being developed to ensure that those who wish to find our pictures can not only do so quickly online, but also find the contact details of the pictures’ owners. You are about to put the cart before the horse.
I’m told the real reason for speed is that “releasing” orphans will create growth. We all understand the need for growth. But where’s the evidence? The seemingly impressive financial figures presented originally in the Hargreaves Review have mysteriously had to be revised – down by 97%! Which now apparently amount to no more than 80p per taxpayer per year. Given the damage this legislation will now cause to taxpaying creators, damage no-one has so far taken into account, the effect of this legislation on economic growth will in fact be negative.
It’s not too late to think again!
An Open letter written by Chris Eades – a member of The BPPA’s Board in response to Professor Roy Greenslade’s inaccurate blog on The Media Guardian website:
Dear Mr Greenslade
I am writing on behalf of your photographic colleagues in the British Press Photographers’ Association to express our disappointment and frustration at your recent series of articles about “paparazzi” seeking to photograph Vicky Pryce while in prison.
I regret to say that the suppositions upon which you have based your article are for the most part untrue, with the result that your subsequent analysis and opinions are based on an ignorance of the facts.
When photographers sought to correct your mistakes and question your motivations in slurring your colleagues you responded not by seeking the truth, but by turning off comments on your blog to disable further criticism.
As someone who lectures in journalism, and presumes to lecture his peers on ethics, it is distressing that you have made no effort to substantiate the facts – but have chosen instead to rely on rumour, supposition and lazy stereotypes with the unfortunate result that you have thereby reinforced those stereotypes.
For your information we have laid out below the true events surrounding the taking of pictures of Pryce, and have sought to address the questions that you raise about the implication of these events.
In short – No laws were broken, the PCC code was adhered to and there is a strong case that a govt minister and his wife both being jailed for criminal offences is a valid news story, strengthened by the perception that Pryce is receiving preferential treatment by being transferred to open prison less than a week after being convicted.
You question the legitimacy of photographing convicted criminals in prison – but there is a long tradition of doing so. Myra Hindley, Jeffrey Archer, Sarah Tisdall, George Best, Rose West, Ernest Saunders, Maxine Carr, even Dr Crippen have all been photographed in prison.
If you think this is wrong then campaign to change the law, or the PCC code – but please don’t vilify your beleaguered photographic colleagues for legitimate news gathering.
We respectfully request a correction in full – with equal prominence to the original articles.
On behalf of the BPPA Committee
The true events surrounding the pictures on Pryce at Sutton Park prison are as follows.
On sunday 17th The Sun ran a story that Pryce had been transferred to an open prison after less than a week in prison. This is unusually soon for a prisoner, even on a short sentence, to be moved – and raises the legitimate question is Pryce receiving preferential treatment?
Five newspapers dispatched staff / regular freelances to the prison to try to obtain pictures of Pryce in her new surroundings. All of the photographers were news photographers, not paps, on wages for the day and acting under instruction of their respective picture desks.
(For clarity I define news photographers as those who photograph individuals in the news, as opposed to paparazzi who concentrate on celebrities. These may overlap but it is a good general distinction).
There are several points where pictures could be taken at Sutton Park, without the need to trespass on private property. The easiest of these is from the grounds of the church which overlook the rear of the prison.
Security staff at the prison became aware of photographers presence fairly early on the sunday, and came over to ask who they were and what they were doing. They were asked to not enter the prison grounds and to be relatively open with their activity so as not to cause security concerns. No request was made for them to leave.
On the Monday they were joined by two more photographers from Fame/Flynet – who joined the existing crowd in the church yard and on a footpath that provides a view of the front drive.
Photographers also met a man wearing a dog collar, who they assume to be the vicar. He passed the time of day with them but again did not at any time express concerns at their presence or request that they leave.
The photographers were openly present in the church grounds, in full view, and with the knowledge of both prison and church authorities.
On Wednesday 20th photographers spotted Pryce being escorted to an outbuilding which they took to be a library or education centre, roughly a hundred yards from the church yard – and took pictures which subsequently appeared online and in the next days Sun, Mirror, Mail and Telegraph. All photographers present got images. Flynet were fortunate to get the best angle, and subsequently the majority of the publications.
These pictures were taken openly from from the churchyard, with the knowledge of church and prison authorities – neither newspaper or agency photographer used subterfuge or trespassed on prison property. Very long lenses were not used, the distance being relatively short.
After the first of these picture appeared online the PCC forwarded a letter from Pryces family asking that photographers withdraw. The photographers had infact already pulled back, having got their picture. To the best of my knowledge none has returned to the prison since.
I know this account to be true – as I was there. I understand that Jim Bennett has also explained much of this to you in person.
ADDRESSING THE CRITICISM
In your first article you publish a series of untruths and make a number of suppositions as well as posing a number of questions.
You state that prison officers “prison officers asked the paparazzi to go away and allow the woman to serve her eight-month sentence for perverting the course of justice in peace” – This is factually untrue, no such request was made at any stage, either by prison officers or by the prison officers press liaison officer who came over for a chat.
You state that – “There is, of course, no proof that any newspaper commissioned the photographers. It is highly likely that the snappers turned up on their own initiative.” This supposition is untrue, at the point when this article was written the ONLY photographers in attendance were in fact working directly for papers.
You also pose the questions:
Is it in the public interest to take pictures of a person in jail?
Is it against the editors’ code of practice?
Is there a law against it?
Photographers working for papers do not as a rule get asked for their views on ethics, these being generally reserved for greater minds in nice warm offices. We tend instead to deal with the practical application of the rules on the ground.
But in answer to your first question “Is it in the public interest to take pictures of a person in jail?” the consensus between those on the ground was that it was questionable whether Pryce was receiving preferential treatment – and as such was a valid news story. The majority of editors with access to the pictures agreed.
In answer to your second question “Is it against the editors’ code of practice?”
You yourself admit that you are unclear as to which part of the code this would breach. The PCC advisory draws newspapers attention to section 4 harassment which states “ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist.”
As I have explained nobody at any stage asked photographers to desist or leave – until the advisory was issued by the PCC, by which time the photographers had already got their pictures and departed.
SO in answer to your question – In our opinion the PCC code was studiously observed.
As to your third question “Is there a law against it?”
No there isn’t
So to sum up the pictures are arguably in the public interest, do not breach the PCC and are not against the law. You have every right to debate this view – but you should make clear that these decisions are made by our bosses, rather that choosing to stereotype and vilify your news gathering colleagues.
When your original article was published a number of photographers commented on your blog that you had the facts wrong which you chose to ignore – choosing instead to repeat your allegations a day or so later, but this time disabling comments to prevent anyone challenging your inaccurate and biassed account.
Furthermore, while we are debating journalism ethics, may I take the opportunity to deplore your decision to publish an unattributed and cowardly attack from an “anonymous” press photographer. An attack full of inaccuracies, from someone who wasn’t even there.
(we all know an anonymous source usually means “my mate in the office” or “I made up these quotes”).
How can you justify publishing a cowardly attack without verification while censoring responses from photographers who were there?
Dear Sir George
One of the easiest ways for a backbench Member of Parliament to get noticed and to acquire a platform is to jump onto passing populist bandwagons. Over the years we have seen it many times but Nadine Dorries MP has just joined a very select club; those whose chasing of popularity and notoriety has become something more than a means to an end.
Nobody can possibly think that the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha was anything other than an absolute tragedy. Nobody apart, it seems, from Nadine Dorries. Not content with expressing normal human emotions and offering her sincere condolences to Ms Saldanha’s family and friends the MP for Mid Bedfordshire has done her best to try to blame members of the media in the United Kingdom for the tragedy. Writing on Twitter the former “I’m a Celebrity” contestant suggested that “paps” had driven the nurse to take her own life. This would seem like an attempt to attach the death to one of her own hobby-horses and put some pressure onto her Parliamentary colleagues to force greater restrictions on the press during the Leveson process.
Whether or not the Conservative Whip is returned to Mrs Dorries on a permanent basis, her actions on Twitter go way beyond Parliamentary Privilege and cross the line into ignorant defamation dressed up as human reaction.
The Board of The British Press Photographers’ Association would ask you to take Nadine Dorries MP’s activities on Twitter into account when you review her status as a Conservative MP and to remind her that her tweets could have consequences every bit as damaging as those of the two Australian disc jockeys whose unthinking actions led to Ms Saldanha’s death.
The Board of The British Press Photographers’ Association