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.

The BPPA’s second submission to the Leveson Inquiry

When the Leveson Inquiry first opened we had little or no idea that press photographers would come in for so much criticism and abuse from the witnesses. At the association’s AGM in November we formed a plan to do what we could to counter this and put our side of the story. Shortly afterwards we sent an initial submission in the form of an open letter to Lord Justice Leveson and his team to see if we could be added as a “core participant’ at The Inquiry.

We were refused that status on the grounds that we were, apparently, both adequately represented and because press photography wasn’t a specific topic for the inquiry. We had expected to be refused and so the job of drafting the second, longer, submission began. The BPPA’s Board approved it at the end of last week and it was submitted ahead of the resumption of The Inquiry on Monday 9th January. The full document is 18 pages long and almost impossible to summarise in a blog posting so here are some key parts of the INTRODUCTION, our four-part STRATEGY and the CONCLUSION in full:

OUTLINE

The association is in a position to make a unique and positive contribution to the debate by providing a more accurate, up-to-date and informed assessment than any other organisation on the specific topics where we have expertise. In this written submission The BPPA will offer The Inquiry our views on:

  • The culture and practices of professional press photographers
  • The market place for news pictures and how it affects those cultures and practices
  • The problems that the market for celebrity images are causing
  • Privacy laws vs public interest

As well as our proposals for

  • Cooperation between all parts of the media to establish clear and enforceable ethical guidelines and codes of behaviour and etiquette
  • The reduction and elimination of the problems of unethical photographers, the so-called ‘stalkerazzi’
STRATEGY
The current international and multi-platform market is, however, no place for voluntary codes to function in isolation. The BPPA’s Board is of the opinion that we need a four-pronged strategy:
  • Make the publishers of websites, blogs, magazines and newspapers and their editors financially and professionally responsible for any lack of due diligence in checking how, where and why pictures that they are publishing were taken. Photographs acquired from citizen journalists, CCTV systems and inexperienced photographers should have a clear and strict series of tests applied before publication to verify their provenance
  • Images purchased from holders of UK Press Cards or from reputable agencies that are members of a United Kingdom Press Card Authority member body would require a lower standard of checking and proof because the photographer holding the press card would, according to the new ethical code, already have performed tests as they were shot. Should the images turn out to have been acquired irresponsibly, that would constitute a breach of the code of ethics that they sign up to when receiving their new UK Press Card
  • Strengthening of the UK Press Card scheme with an enforceable code of conduct including the suspensions and cancellations of cards. This obviously will not stop the cowboys who don’t have genuine press cards but it will provide a framework within which to work
  • Agree a simple outline about exactly which laws apply to photographers when they are going about their legitimate business: trespass, assault, intimidation, harassment and so on. It would also be advisable to clarify where and when the various elements of the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of The Child become applicable without allowing rich and powerful vested interests to slip a de-facto privacy law in by the back door

CONCLUSION

The British Press Photographers’ Association is very keen to be a partner to The Inquiry when solutions are discussed and when recommendations are made. We believe that it is in the long-term interests of our profession to contribute to the discussion and to help to shape the future of the industry. The association has an excellent track record in negotiating, agreeing and publicising codes of conduct. The BPPA and other photographer groups got together with the Metropolitan Police and then with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to agree the guidelines by which we work alongside each other. These guidelines have been in place for several years and have been very successful.

We would recommend the four-pronged strategy outline previously because we believe that adopting it would provide the following outcomes:

  • To provide assurances to the general public that professional journalists exist and that our work is ethical, legal and trustworthy
  • To create clear and unambiguous rules for the conduct of media workers
  • To establish systems within all publications, whether they are print, on-line or broadcast to check where and how material was sourced
  • To use the market place and existing legislation to control the so-called ‘stalkerazzi’

Anyone with the money can buy a camera and call themselves photographers and, as things stand, all of us have to contend with the actions of the relatively small number of unethical operators out there on a daily basis. Several times in this submission we have referred to press photographers as the very visible face of the media and all of our colleagues can relate stories of being shouted at, abused and even assaulted because of a general perception that all news photographers stalk celebrities for a living. This is just not true and The BPPA wishes to make that clear.

There are a large number of genuine and well-behaved entertainment and celebrity specialists who never cross the line, break the law or act outside any new rules that we might develop whose careers could be greatly assisted if we get this process right.

The introduction of a French style privacy law would be the archetypal ‘sledgehammer to crack a walnut’ combined with a textbook case of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’. We support the clarification of existing laws and the establishment of a meaningful, clear, enforceable and unambiguous ethical framework as the correct path along which to proceed.

WHAT TO DO NEXT…

We achieved significant impact with our social media campaign when we published our initial submission and we need to at least match that effort with this document IF we are going to achieve our next objective, which is to get a seat at the table if and when The Inquiry starts to make reccomendations about the future and press photography.

The Social Media Photo Conundrum

So, fellow professionals… answer me this… why should The BPPA be faced with a blank screen when visitors try to look at the photos on our Facebook page? 

The answer is, sadly, that there don’t seem to be any services out there who treat images with respect. If they aren’t stripping the metadata, they are selling your work. If they aren’t asking you to hand over your copyright they are making pictures far too easy to grab. Plus – once your work has been stolen/sold/borrowed we all know that getting it taken down or paid for requires a lot of effort and a not inconsiderable amount of resources.

Our work is very desirable if you are a penniless blogger or a corporate that ‘has no budget for pictures’ and a lot of our members work for agencies who have a ‘no pictures on social media’ policy. We want to show off our members’ work and we know that our pages, blogs and tweets would be far stronger with some of those superb pictures but do we want to take that risk? That is what you call a conundrum!

So what should we do? Should The BPPA remain in the mildly odd position of having to keep its Facebook page picture free or is there another way…