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.

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The Seating Plan

On Tuesday of this week I was at The Leveson Inquiry. Not outside behind the barriers. Inside the building inside the courtroom, suited and booted and even wearing a tie. More astonishingly, so was The BPPA Chairman Jeff Moore (although he refused to shave). The most important BPPA person was Neil Turner, fellow Vice-Chairman and the man in the spotlight. The man who was going into battle with some of the finest minds in the British legal system.

Neil had prepared the initial eighteen page submission, so we knew that inside out, but as we spent most of the day before preparing we had no idea what route the questioning might take. Would they demand to know what our definition of ‘private and public’ was? Would they hold up photographs of photographers in bun-fights and demand their names? Would they demand the names of dodgy picture desks and editors?

The night before we had dinner together, whilst going over and over what might happen. Afterwards, Jeff said that it felt like The Last Supper. To put it bluntly we were bordering on terrified, well I was and Jeff admitted to being even worse. There was some mention of his ‘flapping posterior’…..

On Tuesday morning, we met beforehand and had a last minute chat and a hearty condemned man’s last meal. I went for the bacon sandwich. We headed off to Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) in London, where we were met by a ‘baying pen full of paparazzi’. Oh no hang on a minute, that’s what a television journalist would say. What really happened, was that some of our colleagues greeted us with a wave and got us to pose for photographs. One of the pictures even made it onto the Metro website! It was a little strange being on the ‘wrong’ side of the press pen, but it didn’t last long.

Incidently, the press pen itself was another of our little victories. The pen had been organised at the eleventh hour prior to the start of The Leveson Inquiry proceedings, by myself with Getty Images photographer Pete Macdiarmid and the help of High Court regular Nick Razzell. The Leveson Inquiry kicked off on Monday 21st November 2011 with Hugh Grant and the parents of Milly Dowler. There was no press pen organised in the High Court precinct for photographers. It was going to be chaos. Imagine the footage our television colleagues would have lapped up of the witnesses fighting their way through the throng of fifty or more photographers and cameramen! It would have been very very ugly and luckily a friendly head of security agreed with us enough that an organised pen would indeed be a much better idea. If you don’t ask you don’t get. Disaster averted on the evening of Friday 18th November 2011.

That first week we (press photographers….) were torn to shreds by witness after witness and television loved it. We were getting a kicking and we decided we had to fight back. That’s when we decided it was time that The Leveson Inquiry listened to our side of the story. Things were going to change for us whether we liked it or not, so we had to be listened to. We had to have a seat at the table when the changes were going to be made in the future.

Fast forward a couple of months later and there we were being shown around the Court. We were told we were third up to give evidence, so sat in from the start. It was running over and it was hot, so we were having difficulty staying awake, but it did give us the chance to acclimatise. We never made it on in the morning session, but we were told we’d be first on the stand for the afternoon session. It was starting to get tense again. When we went in, the Court rose and Neil went to the stand to take the Oath. This was it.

Neil was questioned on our submission by Carine Patry Hoskins, Counsel to The Leveson Inquiry. Contrary to what we expected, she explained before we went in what she would be asking us about and pretty much stuck to the script.

It was tremendously difficult to stop myself from sticking my hand up and chipping in. I wonder what my fate would’ve been had I done so….maybe a night in the cells!? We followed every word, muttering between ourselves about answers and generally cheering Neil on under our breath. I sat through most of it with my head down, concentrating. It was going well, but at any moment the Counsel could turn on us.

There were a few points that were at the forefront of my mind. Points that could cause us trouble. I was worried we’d be accused of having members that were involved in some of the worst examples that some of the previous witnesses had mentioned. My thought was, why would we have asked to come here if we thought our members were involved? I was worried they’d ask us what we thought of Paul Dacre the Daily Mail’s Editor-In-Chief’s ideas about changing the Press Card system. We hadn’t had the chance to really tackle this because we’d been in ‘prep’ meetings the day before when he was actually giving evidence. We are totally behind the United Kingdom Press Card Authority, but we had to make sure we didn’t alienate a man who has a lot of clout in our industry. We had to make sure we didn’t appear to think his ideas were rubbish, even if we did. The UKPCA already does most of what he was asking a Press Card authority to do. We had to make sure we were not led down the road of slagging him off. We were there to make friends and get a seat at the table, not make enemies. I was worried how they would react to our criticism about television getting access to events like The Leveson Inquiry whilst press photographers are left literally out in the cold. This was raised, but I think they felt it was a fair point. They certainly failed to pursue the negative side of the suggestion.

My greatest fear was the comment in our submission about “people involved in news stories, not having the sense to stop and talk for two minutes”. To be honest, I’d forgotten about this comment until it came up. I thought that it really made us sound like we think people should do what we want, or face the consequences. Neil played a blinder. He said, it was all about changing the public’s attitude to it. Brilliant and true. Why shouldn’t someone stop and talk, why should they run away!? All we want is a photograph, not to hijack their soul.

Lord Leveson thanked us at the beginning of the session for attending The Leveson Inquiry to give evidence and at the end of the session he commented, (paraphrasing….) “the problem is not with professional photographers and journalists, but professional photographers and journalists are needed for the solution”.

After all our hard work lobbying to attend, we’d finally had our seat at the top table.

The BPPA and The Leveson Inquiry in 34 minutes.

Three submissions, a lot of reading and an awful lot of discussion came down to a 34 minute appearance at The Leveson Inquiry today (Tuesday 7th February) afternoon. Was it worth it? Right here, right now the answer has to be a truly resounding ‘YES’. Our case has been outlined before; we wanted to impress on the world that there can be a huge difference between a professional press photographer and a bloke with a posh camera.

We wanted to make Lord Justice Leveson and his Inquiry aware that we are willing and able to be to be part of the process of finding solutions to the issues highlighted in the early evidence at the hearings. Most of all we wanted to highlight the four-pronged plan that we have developed to help ensure that photographs published in the UK news media have been checked thoroughly so that they comply with every law and ethical code that applies to that media in that situation.

Sitting there in the same chair that Paul Dacre, Editor in chief of the Daily Mail had occupied for the best part of four hours yesterday and that the familiar cast list of celebrities had sat in right back at the start of the formal hearings in November was more than a little nerve-wracking. Not so much on a personal level – but representing hundreds of honest, hard working and highly professional colleagues. If that wasn’t bad enough, the editors of The Times and The Sun were up after us!

We really cannot talk about today in terms of winning and losing but it seems that we have made our point and we know that Lord Justice Leveson himself said that

“Mr Turner, thank you very much indeed. Responsible photographers, like responsible journalists, are not part of the problem and they do need to be part of the solution. Thank you very much.”

If, after today, the industry takes us more seriously and if, after today, we are allowed a voice on issues that directly affect the lives, careers and reputations of professional press photographers then maybe, just maybe we can think in terms of a (small) victory.

Of course the 34 minute white knuckle ride was made a lot easier by the quality of our argument and the sentiments in our submissions.

The BPPA’s Board worked hard on this and there are a lot of people to say ‘thank you’ to. So to everyone who contributed, everyone who tweeted and re-tweeted about our submissions and liked our Facebook page. Thank you. It turns out that it was a pleasure to be your representative!

Links to the content of our appearance: TRANSCRIPT VIDEO

The BPPA gets its say at The Leveson Inquiry

Here’s a date for your diary: Tuesday the 7th of February. “Why?” I hear you ask, well it is the day when The BPPA will finally get to appear before the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice & ethics of the press.

In our main submission to Lord Justice Leveson’s Inquiry we proposed a four-pronged solution to the issues raised in connection to photography at the hearings to date:

  • 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

We started the ball rolling back in November when the association’s AGM took place and we started to discuss what we could do about the beating that press photographers were taking during the first couple of weeks worth of evidence at The Inquiry. Like most people, we had thought that the early stages of Lord Justice Leveson’s hearings would be about phone hacking but time-after-time the actions of photographers seemed to get more coverage than those of private detectives and over-zealous reporters.

Within days we had made our first submission in the form of an open letter to The Inquiry where we outlined our objections and sought to be awarded “core participant” status for the proceedings. The legal team behind the Leveson hearings took a couple of weeks to get back to us to let us know that we would not be offered that status they invited us to make a second and much more detailed submission by the beginning of January. We put the 18 page document in on time and following a few emails back and forth asking for clarification of one of our points we finally learned this week that it is all systems go for Tuesday, the 7th of February.

The BPPA wants to be there at the table when solutions are discussed and when decisions are made. The BPPA wants the voices of press photographers to be heard. Most importantly, The BPPA wants to make sure that the profession comes out of this process with its reputation enhanced, with its future as secure as it can be and with improved media and public perceptions of who we are and what we do.

These are simultaneously worrying and exciting times for press photographers. As a profession we have worked hard to create some momentum towards those goals and it is our aim to keep that momentum going on February 7th.

Visit The BPPA’s website.

“We are the eyes of the public…”

I’ve been to a mystical land! It’s a land where press photographers are loved and feted. They are considered professionals whose role is vital to the nation. They are not abused on the streets and the Head Of State, the President,  joins them for dinner when they have their annual awards ceremony, the winner of which is whisked away in a limo’ for a live prime time television interview. They are interviewed again for breakfast television and their winning photograph is plastered all over the national newspapers. One previous winner told me how he and a colleague were given a civic reception in their home town the year they won. To get there you just head north, turn left at Birmingham and keep on going.  You’ll probably need a boat or a plane, but it’s not as far as you think.

If you think I’m talking about the U.S.A then you are wrong! This land of dreams, where our profession is so loved is in fact the Republic Of  Ireland.

I’ve just returned from Dublin, after three days of judging the Press Photographer’s Association of Ireland ‘AIB Photojournalism Awards 2012’, along with my colleague photographer Peter Macdiarmid from Getty Images and legendary former picture editor of The Irish Times, Dermot O’Shea. We spent a fantastic weekend going through the cream of Irish press photography. The decisions were hard to make, but we were happy to spend the hours in a darkened room because the photography was just amazing. The results are almost a state secret, only to be revealed in February at the gala black tie dinner attended by non other than the Irish President Michael Higgins himself! Peter and myself were treated like visiting dignitaries and taken to the best restaurants and bars in Dublin, where the reception was never anything other than fiercely friendly. We are both looking forward to returning for the main event.

The thing that struck us both during the visit and which spurred me on to writing this, my first ever blog post, was how different the atmosphere was around the subject of press photography in Ireland. It really is respected, all the things I mentioned at the start of this post are true. On the final day of judging we were visited in the hotel, where the judging was taking place, by six photographers from the Irish national press for a photocall and on the following day the readers were put off their breakfast by our (mine and Pete’s) ugly mugs staring back at them. These national papers will also run massive spreads after the winners have been announced. The winner, as I said earlier, is taken to be interviewed on ‘The Late Late Show’, Ireland’s highest rated and most prestigious television show on RTE. This is fantastic support and publicity for the world of photojournalism and it is quite obviously paying dividends evident in the Irish public’s attitude to our job. The sponsor, Allied Irish Bank (AIB) must take a great deal of the credit too. They tour the exhibition to their branches around the country bringing this high quality work to the grassroots. Small communities getting the chance to see the work of the country’s finest. AIB also marry the tour to local festivals, so the photography becomes part of community events. It’s a simple idea but brilliantly effective because it makes people feel part of our job. It’s there for them to see in their high street.

Bearing all this in mind makes you wonder. Could we TheBPPA do the same !? Maybe we would need a fairy godmother sponsor? The work involved in touring any exhibition is daunting and probably beyond a volunteer lead organisation at the moment, but the publicity in other areas of the media must be achievable. We’ve got friends in television, why can’t we get them onside!? We all mostly work for newspapers and magazines, why can’t we get them to do spreads of member’s work when we have a completed project? I used to do ‘vox pops’ with Boris Johnson, surely City Hall is a prime exhibition space?We need ideas and we need everyone to get behind the cause…….

Whatever we do we’d better do it fast! The Leveson Inquiry set up following the phone hacking scandal, was very quick to turn it’s guns on press photographers. It’s easy to see why….we are ‘low hanging fruit’. The visible face of journalism. We stand on the street, we don’t hide in an office. We come face to face with the public and from experience I can tell you they are not big fans. We need to win them over. We need them to understand that we are there to serve them. We are there to show them what’s going on.

Andrew Wiard, a fellow TheBPPA board member and respected photojournalist, coined this brilliant phrase at a recent meeting when he said, “We are the eyes of the public..”

All we have to do now is work to get them to see it!

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.

“You paparazzi scum!”

Image

I’ve been a news photographer for nearly twenty years and during that time I’ve covered hundreds, if not thousands of stories that have appeared in tabloid newspapers and magazines around the world.

I’m British and have been living and working in Los Angeles, USA for the past four and a half years.

Like many news photographers out there my work consists of a healthy mix of celebrities. I recently covered Prince Harry’s time in the USA, plenty of showbiz like the Beckhams for example, the death of Michael Jackson and hard news including the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.

My career came out of an equal passion for photography and news. When I quit the security of a steady job as an electronic sales engineer back in the early 1990′s and handed back the company car, tie and pension, I knew I was following the right path for me. It was more of a calling than a job.

It didn’t take for me long to realise which photographs would pay the highest bounty. A front page in the Times or Telegraph would pay maybe £500 if I was lucky, where-as a front page and a double page spread inside a red top tabloid or a glossy showbiz magazine would pay ten times that amount. It doesn’t take a business genius to realise which photos I should be chasing.

I quickly became a regular shifter at many of the national Daily and Sunday papers, including the Daily Mail, The News of the World and the Sun and in 2000 I set up an agency, First News, where I had a number of photographers working for me.

As a photographer or agency boss you have to  balance your output between work you are passionate about and work that pays the bills.

Jobs like catching James Boffey, a banned driver from Liverpool, getting back behind the wheel of his car after killing a cyclist, made the front page of the Daily Mail. It gave me great satisfaction actually nailing the scroat, but hardly paid a fortune. Or spending £2000 of my own money to investigate and photograph victims of people trafficking in Romania, a feature that never sold.

I’d worked on a number of stories in the USA and always felt I’d like to live there. In 2007 I got my visa and moved to Los Angeles where I  joined a celebrity news agency.

In early 2008 some news organizations focused their attention on me. Whilst working for the agency I took the decision to quit my job as I felt uneasy about the constant and reckless pursuit of the singer Britney Spears. At the time Spears appeared to be going through some kind of mental breakdown, shaving her head, driving on high speed late night runs through the Hollywood Hills, hotly pursued by the paparazzi. I felt it could end in the death of Spears.

There was no story, the paparazzi’s pursuit of Spears became the story. 

The competition for the latest set of photographs of Britney was very hot, with hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid for a great exclusive. The paparazzi  were ruthless. It wasn’t unknown for the paps to drive on the wrong side of the street and jump red lights. Stories of paps having their tyres slashed and cars attacked by the competition were not uncommon.

I stepped away from this madness.

I stepped away because like most news photographers out there whether working for a tabloid, or a broadsheet, like any sane person I looked at the actions of the paps and felt this clearly was not news photography. Someone was going to die.

Don’t get me wrong, I still cover celebrity news stories and photograph them on a regular basis, but there are ways of doing things. I don’t hound them with a short zoom lens twelve inches from their nose. I don’t chase them, jumping red lights and driving on the wrong side of the road, like a pack of hounds hunting a fox. The public have a huge appetite for celebrity news and photographs, this will never change, you only need to look at any newsstand to see that vast numbers of glossy magazines fighting for the hard earned cash of its readers. Not to mention the thousands of celebrity websites that are now financially trying to justify their existence.

I’ve watched with interest the Leveson Inquiry and the blanket condemnation of all tabloid news photographers. The news photographers have had no opportunity to reply to the allegations cast upon them.

Like many genuine news photographers out there I’ve been offended by many of the allegations levelled at us during the inquiry, often by people who fight for exposure within every column inch they can get.

In the world of news photography there are a small element who take unreasonable steps to obtain a sellable photograph. Sometimes attempting to incite a reaction in their subject, other times pursuing the subject relentlessly without a news agenda, just in hope getting a sellable frame and earn some money from that days snapping. There are of course a number of agencies that encourage this, their only concern is to get a photograph that sells.

A clear distinction must be made between this group and the large majority of news photographers. We do not spit on subjects, bang on their cars, approach their children, jump red lights, chase at high speed or manipulate photographs. We are there as impartial observers to observe and record in a dignified manner and in a manner that no reasonable celebrity or member of the public could have an issue with.

What is equally concerning is how the industry itself doesn’t differentiate between the good the bad and the ugly. How many times do we see TV images of the paparazzi, as they always call us, chasing a celebrity? Let’s not forget that the reason we are seeing those TV images is because the TV camera was plotted beside us and to see a broadsheet this week use a photograph of what is clearly a designated press pen and refer to the photographers inside it as paparazzi, it would appear we need to enlighten even our own picture desks as to what a paparazzi is.

The work of the ruthless paparazzi and the agencies that encourage their behaviour, in order to maximize their income must be condemned.  And the work of many hundreds of responsible news photographers must be recognized as work far removed from the small minority.

Nick Stern is a freelance news photographer, based in Los Angeles, USA and member of The British Press Photographer’s Association.