The term paparazzi – famously brought into existence by Federico Fellini’s 1960 classic La Dolce Vita – is freighted with negative connotations, conjuring up invasion of private space, the nonchalant ruining of lives, physical assaults, high-profile law suits and more. Yet as a genre, its aesthetic has been surprisingly influential for a number of other styles, from fashion and fine art to its frequent overlaps with “loftier” genres such as documentary and street photography.
Weegee (Usher Fellig, a.k.a. the “papa of Paparazzi”) was one of the first to start snapping celebrities unawares, but he also worked with (and ahead of) police on order to capture everything from motor accidents to murders. By the Fifties and Sixties, Tazio Secchiaroli (the inspiration for Fellini’s news photographer Paparazzo) was stalking famous people in Rome, while Edward Quinn and Daniel Angeli were doing the same on the Cote d’Azur.
By the Seventies, the long lenses and bright flashes had shifted to Hollywood and the style was enjoying its artistic apex. Ron Galella had his teeth knocked out by Marlon Brando (and wore an American football helmet any time he expected to run into Brando thereafter), and Helmut Newton – a big fan of Weegee – hired real paparazzi to pose with his models for a Linea Italiana shoot, blurring the boundaries between the real and the staged. During this era, pap photography also held some sway over its old rival, painting. From Richard Hamilton’s Swingeing London , based on a photo of handcuffed Mick Jagger (and his gallerist) following a drugs arrest, to Warhol and Richter’s adaptations of a grieving Jackie Kennedy after the death of her husband, fine artists have been drawn to the pathos and vulnerability sometimes inherent in Paparazzi imagery.
While the classic paparazzi era of the Sixties and Seventies was known for the glamour of its targets and the cheekiness, inventiveness and speed of the photographer, today’s paps seem more concerned with tawdry details and cheap sensationalism than any urge to chronicle, with the genre’s aesthetic subsequently stripped of any artfulness. Fuelled by “moguls” like Australian Darren Lyons, who labels himself Mr. Paparazzi and trades in gossip, rumour and general self-aggrandizing, today’s community of tabloid Stalkerazzi has suffered a backlash, underlined by the likes of VICE Magazine (no strangers to intrusive journalism themselves) dreaming up the ultimate revenge: a documentary name Stalking the Paparazzi that turned the tables and confronted the celebrity-chasers. Brad Elterman, co-founder of Buzz Foto , a photographic agency in Los Angeles, has been trying to re-install an art aesthetic into the genre. Hailing from an art-collecting family, he began as a paparazzo in 1975, at the tender age of 19, stalking the likes of David Bowie and other icons.
His concept with Buzz Foto is to use “brilliant photographers with a passion for their craft” – and to seek iconic photographs that could not only be published in magazines but also hang at art galleries. His first exhibition at the Seyhoun Gallery on Melrose Ave (2008) was a resounding critical success.
Paparazzi styles have continued to leak into fashion, not least in the approach of today’s street style bloggers, who can command large figures from high-end magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar by hunting down models at fashion shows as well as in public. Street fashion blogger don Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist is among the highest-profile of the genre, having been commissioned by everyone from Vogue Italia to GQ, and appearing in national ad campaigns for The Gap and Verizon. Increasingly in fashion, photographic talent comes from a street, rather than studio background. To some extent, the proliferation of CCTV, digital cameras and instantaneous publishing via the Internet has made us all prospective Paparazzi – or victims of it. In one sense, it could be argued that “Pap Culture” has now become an everyday thing, as millions of social interactions, parties and events are made public online almost as soon as they’ve happened. Go to enough parties and get into enough photos and you might even become famous.
Pigozzi’s double-portrait series “Pigozzi & Co” , which was assembled during the Seventies, seems to presage this phenomenon. Rather than laying in wait for the rich and famous, Pigozzi built up relationships with them, not so much invading lives as being discreetly invited into them. In the images, Pigozzi appears alongside his famous friends, their heads enviably close, often touching, the photographer’s arm stretched outwards as he aims the camera towards his own face. The images in this series remind of nothing more than the photos we’re all now used to seeing daily, hourly, even every minute, on our social media channels, albeit (mostly) with our usual friends rather than anyone glamorous.
This visual monitoring of our everyday lives – by ourselves as well as others – has grown so commonplace that projects like Canadian artist Jon Rafman’s 9eyes have gone in the opposite direction, scanning the continuous stream of images taken by Google’s Street View cameras to find unexpected juxtapositions and unique moments within the everyday.
Sleek’s photoshoot of the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class made by the Berlin-based photographer Lina Grün in Slovenia, bundles together many of these ideas, and shows how the paparazzi methodology can be turned and put to use outside its traditional field. Once considered an informational, investigative mode, the optic of pap photography is now also an artistic one, transcending its own boundaries and extending into the contemporary visual landscape in striking and surprising ways.