Is Photojournalism a dying industry being replaced by the Paparazzi?
We are becoming a society increasingly obsessed with celebrity culture, fixated by paparazzi photographs of everyone from the Royal family to the contestants from reality television shows. Society craves that ‘unusual’ element to a photograph and media reflects society, as we are more likely to enjoy a photo showing Prince Harry drunkenly falling out of a nightclub than an ordinary shot of him at lunch. Is there still room for photojournalism to flourish with such high demand for outrageous pictures? Have the paparazzi become the enemy for both photojournalists and celebrities?
The birth of ‘celebrity’ and paparazzi began in the 1950’s: the age of glamour. This was a perfect time for a new obsession after the constant hardship people had suffered during the War. Until the arrival of ‘paparazzi’ and this new snatched style of photography, the public had been fed a diet of staged studio portraits of film stars. The Hollywood portrait studios of the 1940s and 1950s understood how much glamour meant and they created images of the stars as idols that were less portraits than a kind of loving embalmment. However, unlike today, many of the big stars of that period such as Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot actually admired their photographers and were friends with them and thus there were still boundaries. These were boundaries of respect, rather than privacy laws and regulation guidelines that have recently been brought in. This meant that photographers could easily get the ‘perfect picture.’ Everyone remembers and recognises the iconic image which photographer Sam Shaw created concerning Marilyn Monroe and her famous skirt-blowing photo. Now, in the 21st Century, paparazzi are mostly detested by celebrities and recognise no boundaries at all. The paparazzi scoop is obtained from long ambushes, pursuits, disguises and from situations provoked by photographers. Does this make the photos ‘staged?’ Certain shots are priceless and paparazzi will be as ruthless and brutal as they can to get that photograph which will make the front page of the tabloids, whether the celebrity is being represented truthfully or not.
Continuing this theme of potential misrepresentation, we can look at Che Guevara. I’ll bet that a number of you don’t know who he is or what he stands for, but probably own or have seen someone wearing a t-shirt bearing his face. Che Guevara was a student of medicine and young revolutionary who had joined Castro’s revolutionary 26th of July movement in the 60’s. Photographer Alberto Korda took a photo of Guevara during a memorial service that has become famous throughout the world and appears on various types of memorabilia. Korda’s photograph has stood the test of time, something that all photojournalists strive to achieve. It was after Guevara’s death that this photo really became iconic, but do people who own keyrings or posters bearing this particular picture know what it symbolises or have any knowledge on the Cuban Revolution? Is this picture a true representation of Guevara or is it like endless paparazzi photos, which just catch someone at the wrong time?
When Lady Diana Spencer’s blossoming relationship with the Prince of Wales leaked out to the press in the summer of 1980, the 19-year-old was ill-prepared for the media onslaught. She was followed every time she left her flat or got in or out of her car. Quickly nicknamed Shy Di, she soon figured out how her paparazzi adversaries ticked and in time learnt how to overshadow her husband. But the Princess hadn’t reckoned on the destructive power of the paparazzi. Her marriage unravelled in the glare of their flashguns and then, in 1997, she died in a car crash in Paris after her driver attempted to escape from the aggressive paparazzi on her tail. Do we hold the paparazzi responsible for Princess Diana’s death? Or were they just the middle man, feeding society’s fuelling obsession with celebrity? Was it in fact our fault that they were chasing her, or was it Diana’s responsibility after years of using the media and the paparazzi as a tool to her advantage?
When talking about Photojournalism versus Paparazzi, it is fair to say that photojournalists care more about the photo and telling a story through that photo.
An example of this can be seen through the photojournalist Lewis Hine. He believed a picture could tell a powerful story, and during the 1900’s he traveled around America photographing the working conditions of children in all types of industries which he hoped would express his opinion on the abuse of children. Hine believed that if people could see for themselves the abuses and injustice of child labour, they would demand laws to end those evils; and indeed by 1916, Congress had passed the Keating-Owens Act that established various child labour standards. Photojournalism is influential and has been seen in the past to change history, especially in this instance and also with regard to the Vietnam War, which in turn created the ‘Vietnam syndrome.’ Three Governments were voted in and out due to the work of photojournalists concerning the Vietnam War. However, we can discuss whether Hine’s pictures are a true representation of the poor through the argument…natural or staged? Truth, Lies, and why? If Hine staged his pictures, does it make them any less ‘real?’ I would comment that if a picture represents a moment, and realism, then it may be ok to stage the image, and the means may justify the ends.
But with regard to paparazzi, they are not interested in telling a story, and staging a photograph can be highly controversial if it turns out to be some kind of publicity stunt pulled by a celebrity. It would be a real shame if paparazzi replaced photojournalists because we would be lacking in hard-hitting serious images, which are more important than fickle celebrity culture. But apparently this is what you want to see! Perhaps it is a form of escapism where we don’t wish to comprehend such serious images that interrupt the routine of our ‘normal’ lives. Why would we want to look at images of war or famine which are upsetting and harsh when we can see Cheryl Cole’s perfect life splashed all over the newspapers? Do we wish to look at Shanty Towns in South Africa, or Beckingham Palace, home to the two most photographed people in the world?
Unlike photojournalists, paparazzi are mainly concerned with making money and fuelling society’s obsession. But, we musn’t place all the blame on paparazzi for being so pushy and wanting to capture such shocking and extravagant photographs when it is us who demand such things from them. There is no money or interest in other issues, which explains why the Magnum Photography Agency brought in the Triad photo film, and with this new style they too became paparazzi. The ‘father’ of photojournalism and co-founder of the Magnum Agency was Henri Cartier Bresson. According to Bresson, “Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.”
Bresson developed a technique known as the ‘Decisive Moment’. In this technique, the subject isn’t aware that they are having their photo taken. The images are taken without thought of reason for meaning, just a momentary snapshot of reality, taken in an instance with no agenda, reporting on the event “naturally.” This style has influenced photographers and photojournalists for generations. Other photojournalists, such as Martin Parr, choose to use ‘middle ground’ where they interact with the subjects, but without asking them to pose to make it as authentic as possible and win their trust. However, photojournalist Jeff Wall runs against Bresson’s theory of ‘The Decisive Moment’, as his pictures are staged. Wall’s agenda is to question everything we see. Again we must ask the question of whether staged photos are transcending the journalistic barrier, and whether this is a truthful representation?
We must remember with paparazzi pictures that although most aren’t staged, with the power of Photoshop and other such mediums, it is possible to change them; although society are more aware of the fact that photographs can be manipulated now more than ever. Nobody wants the authenticity of their photographs being questioned, but depressingly airbrushed and unreal photographs that appear in magazines don’t help in making the audience believe how accurate and genuine the pictures really are.
The quality of the paparazzi photograph has declined since the 1950s and 1960s. These days the paparazzi might hold up their camera over a crowd of heads and hope for the best. Or members of the public might snap celebrities on their camera phones and send them in for publication. The photograph is not good and the subject is not interesting. This is how photojournalism differs. We can also see the birth of a new media here with camera phones, instant internet ‘on the go’ and what we may call ‘citizen journalism.’ Is this another factor leading to the decline in photojournalism?
The audience trust in Magnum photography, and it influences and inspires generations of people to take action and make a stand. Again the question must be asked…Is it truth, or manipulation and propaganda? These questions are relevant to both paparazzi photographs and those from a photojournalist. The photograph was the first medium of truth, but does this still stand today?
As the lines between celebrity news and hard news become blurred by the major news agencies, the differences between a paparazzo and photojournalist are increasingly difficult to distinguish, as well as the differences between a genuine picture and something that has been staged and is fake. Look at the example of Piers Morgan and the pictures of British troops supposedly abusing Iraqi soldiers which were printed on the front page of the Daily Mirror. The controversy of these ‘hoax’ pictures was so extreme that Morgan lost his job. How do we know what is real, and whether the subject is being represented truthfully? Will photojournalism eventually become extinct due to loss of interest from the public? Have the paparazzi replaced them in our obscure reality? Do celebrities use them to their advantage and therefore cannot complain if they are continuously harassed by photographers? For this reason, I ask the question, paparazzi…friend or foe?