Of Shutterbugs & Mosquitoes: A Brief History of the Paparazzi
There’s no denying it: Our society is celebrity obsessed. These days, those who are curious about the rich and famous — or the not-so-rich and famous — don’t have to rely on gossip mags and tabloids as the sole sources of shocking tidbits and sneaky photographs. Just check your fave’s latest Insta story or tweet for the juicy details.
When the public’s interest in celebrity culture and Hollywood swelled in the ‘50s and ‘60s, fans wanted access to those famous faces — to peek behind the curtain into celebrities’ private lives. There’s something intriguing about the way a public figure’s life is so curated, and when it intersects with the mundane, it's exciting to feel as though we are all one and the same.
Enter the paparazzi. Before social media, video sharing on the Internet and 24/7 entertainment news stations, these photographers were the key to accessing celebrity life — particularly the everyday minutia (getting a peppermint mocha, shopping at Target, walking literally anywhere) that made them seem so human. Nowadays, the paparazzi — independent photographers who snap photos of high-profile folks — are seen as a nuisance and, in the very worst cases, threatening. But how did this profession come to be?
Hatching Out of La Dolce Vita: The Origins of a Nuisance
Not affiliated with mainstream media organizations, paparazzi capture shots of celebrity sightings. Through their photos, these opportunists make stars accessible — even ordinary. While the name "paparazzi" may seem a bit random, it actually has its origins in the Federico Fellini film La Dolce Vita (1960), where Walter Santesso plays a news photographer named Paparazzo. In an interview with Time, Fellini noted that "Paparazzo… suggests to me a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging." In short, a bit like a mosquito — nature’s nuisance.
A Not-So-Sweet Life for High-Profile Photo Subjects
Famously, actress Anita Ekberg also had enough of the paparazzi loitering outside her home and took to the streets with a bow and arrow (pictured). While brawls like Hargitay’s and threats such as Ekberg’s may seem a bit rash at first glance, there’s no denying that paparazzi photographers exhibit intrusive, stalker-like behavior. Not everyone has the patience of Audrey Hepburn, who often simply ignored the picture-takers.
Paparazzi in the Age of Social Media
In the early 2000s, Photoshop became gossip mags’ new get, but these publications — and new online entertainment platforms — still needed fresh celeb snapshots to entice readers. Once a highly sought photo was taken, you could bet it would be everywhere, flooding the internet. For example, Mel Bouzad, one of the top paparazzi in Los Angeles in the early to mid-2000s, claimed that a picture of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck (#Bennifer) in Georgia in the wake of the duo’s high-profile breakup nabbed him a whopping $150,000.