Tag Archives: paparazzi

Reading – G.R.A.M. Paparazzi

GRAM Paparazzi Cover


G.R.A.M. Paparazzi is a catalogue book containing paparazzi style images of celebrities and non-celebrities alike.

Picking up the book and flipping through the pages is an interesting experience, not least because it’s unusual to encounter these paparazzi style images in such a format. The intimacy and formality of the book lends a different dimension to these images, which are more typically  encountered in the pages of the tabloid press in magazines, newspapers or trashy websites.

It is never clear in the book if the creators actually shot these images, or they were taken from other sources. This in combination of displaying images of the famous and non-famous alike in a non-hierarchal manner creates a flat and democratic pictorial landscape that doesn’t differentiate between the subjects.

The book is also interspersed with short essays about celebrity culture and the distribution of popular images.

Overall, I think G.R.A.M. Paparazzi serves as an interesting reference in how the presentation medium can recontextualise images we encounter. Moving forward, it maybe be useful to consider extending the project by presenting the images in different mediums.

Reading – Class Struggle: The Invention of Paparazzi Photography and the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales

Scan of the first page to the essay “Class Struggle: The Invention of Paparazzi Photography and the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales”

I was trying to research more into paparazzi photography when I came across “Overexposed”, a collection of essays edited by Carol Squiers. In it, was one of particular interest, an essay that discusses how paparazzi photography (and the larger media machine) played a role in creation and ultimately destruction of Princess Diana – both the princess and the Princess.

The essay starts off by discussing the origins of paparazzi photography. How it has its roots in post-war Italy, which became a melting pot of traditional Italian values and liberal American ideology. While some were desperately tried to fend off American hegemony, there was really little there could be done to prevent the liberal (relatively) lifestyles of the Hollywood jetset like Elizabeth Taylor from being splashed all over the papers. This was not something happening from afar across the Atlantic Ocean, this was happening in their very own backyard, and this posed a direct alternative to the traditional Italian idea of femininity.

The writing also discusses briefly the differences between photojournalism, documentary photography, celebrity editorial and promotional photography, surveillance photography, and paparazzi photography. Noting that paparazzi photography differ from the other forms of photographic documentation in its subject matter, approach and technical standards.

“…be watchful so as to catch the spilling cleavage, the ungainly yawn, the drunken pratfall or ill-advised strut. But the paparazzi’s provocations, which made celebrities lash out, get angry, flee from or chase the photographers, produced exaggerated reactions that created celebrities as comic visions…” (pg 288)

The essay then goes on to consider the politics and agenda setting mechanisms of the media. It proposes a direct conflict between media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the British monarchy, with the former using his media outlets such as The Sun, to deconstruct and destabilise the royal family. Subsequently, the piece goes on to discuss how the media formed the public’s idea of the Princess; how each stakeholder (the Queen, the public, media outlets, the Princess herself) in the building up the idea of the Princess had their own agenda, using the media as a means to manipulate and craft that image.

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Having completed the reading, I find the essay pertinent in providing insight on the early roots of paparazzi photography, while weaving in the socio-political landscape that it was borne in on. The proposed distinctions of paparazzi photography that differentiates it from other forms of “more esteemed” modes of documentation photography is also one that I’ll consider while solidifying the project’s framework.

While the latter parts are of much less direct relevance to my project, it is nonetheless interesting to note the power structures and struggle that existed in the tug of war over the image of Princess Diana. The agenda setting and status conferral powers of the media is also something of interest.

Local Context for Paparazzi style Photography

In the local context, there is no prominent paparazzi scene (and in fact some celebrities in the region for example, Hong Kong celebrities actually enjoy coming to Singapore for this reason). Hence it would be interesting to see how subjects would react when faced with a paparazzi swarm.

One of the closest example I can think of that can approximate the paparazzi encounter is the the mass of media representatives who swarm around prosecutors and defendants outside the compounds of a court during prominent court hearings.

For example, in the pictures of the ongoing City Harvest church trial (sample pictures below), we can see a group of photographers (and videographers) trying to surround the defendants to record stills, or moving image footage, of them. It is typically a quick and chaotic encounter as all involved joust for space, and with the defendants usually moving quickly into a nearby parked vehicle to be whisked away from the media.

CHC Swarm 01

(from http://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/what-is-buzzing/archive/19.html)

CHC Swarm 02


(from http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/trial-city-harvest-leaders-resumes)

Paparazzi Test Shoot

On 24 March 2014, a friend and I conducted some preliminary tests on the paparazzi idea. Though it is a much scaled down version than the actual idea, it gave some interesting results.

The following is a selection of some of the results:



#1 – Unknown couple
Expectedly they grew wary of the presence of the cameras and flash and began speeding up their walk to get away from us



#2 – Unknown lady
The lady seemed curious about what we were doing but ultimately did little than to look up from her phone to look at us



#3 – Unknown male student
Again similar to #2, but this male student was evidently more apprehensive about what we were doing



#4 – Two unknown male students

This two male students remained largely indifferent to the cameras and our picture making antics.



#5 – Unknown male student

This male student was evidently curious and apprehensive about having this photo taken but ultimately did little to enquire or approach the photographers.



#6 – Unknown female student

We decided to test a different approach, instead of trying to catch people in transit, we wanted to catch people while they were doing something. Here we photographed a female student working away in an open study area. She became aware of our presence and picture taking actions after a few shots. Interesting, she decided to shy away from the camera instead of confronting the photographers.

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Interestingly though my friend and I photographed dozen of people in an obvious manner, only 3 of our subjects sought clarification about what we were doing. This deviates from my initial expectation that people would be more shy or aggressive towards having their image taken.

An addition passerby (an unknown adult male) who saw what was happening did approach us to enquire what we were going to use the images for. Though he dispensed his recommendation that we should actively inform the subjects of our project, he too was surprised at the low number of people who actively objected or enquired about what we were doing.

There are various possible reasons why this dominant behaviour could have occurred. The safety of the school environment could possibly account for this. The subjects may have assumed we were part of the campus student reportage team.

It may also be possible that the younger generation is much more comfortable in the presence of the camera or having their images taken by others. Hence, they objected less actively to our actions.

On the end of the photographers, it was evident that both my friend and I were initially apprehensive about the possible reactions we might receive for attempting to directly photograph our subjects. In the end, we were both surprised that so few actively approached us after their photo was taken.

Overall, it was an interesting experiment. The results herein will serve as a useful point of reference for the actual shoot.

The Camera As An Instrument To Augment Human Interaction and Behaviour (or how I have a final project idea)

After several weeks of moving back and forth between various ideas, I finally came upon one that I’ll be exploring under the our final project for this Media & Performance class.

I was searching for an idea that incorporated an element of the camera (you can read my initial ideation here: http://oss2014.adm.ntu.edu.sg/weilong/project-hyperessay-work-in-progress/) functioning not just as an instrument of image capture, but also as a physical object that exerts a psychological and physiological change on us.

I decided to look at the much maligned form of photography known as “paparazzi photography”.

The direct flash, chaotic composition, celebrity subjects are all part of the visual language of paparazzi photography.  Its intrusive, aggressive and voyeuristic nature are also hallmarks of such a mode of photography.

As a media product, these pictures feed into the larger media and pop culture machinery, stimulating the insatiable demand of the public or curious onlookers for a peek into the lives of the rich and famous.

Tabloid 1 Tabloid 2

Screenshots of paparazzi style photographs found on tabloid and celebrity gossip website, The Superficial.


Much like the above examples, these photographs often accompany written articles to produce a visual/text product that freely mixes between ridicule, the salacious and objectification. The subjects themselves often have little to no control to how they are portrayed, and are at best, flatten into simplistic, and easily understood caricatures.

But what happens when such a device is used to photograph the common man? Can such a mode of working reveal a truth or evoke situations for us to understand better how contemporary society relates to photography and the camera?

The work of Bruce Gilden (that’s him below) comes to mind when I began thinking upon these lines. His controversial style of street photography challenges (even till today) what we can accept as “proper” behaviour of a photographer, and what a good photograph is.

Bruce Gilden 2
Bruce Gilden (From: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2011/06/24/bruce-gilden-asshole-or-genius/)

Gilden gets up close to his unsuspecting subjects and fires his flash into their path. This produces intriguing and unusual pictures with unique results.

Bruce Gilden
Bruce Gilden shooting up and close. (From: http://www.flickr.com/groups/onthestreet/discuss/72157631750358357/

But of course Gilden was probably not coming from/functioning in the capacity of a paparazzi photographer as he approached making his work. Though his lack of regard for social norms (e.g. not getting to someone’s face) recalls the aggressive practices of paparazzi photographers.

The work of Philip-Lorca DiCorcia also comes to mind. The photographer’s Heads series (some examples below) features photographs captured of unsuspecting passersby through the use of hidden strobes. Though, the aesthetic adopted here by DiCorcia is notably much more nuanced and poetic; much less aggressive than the work of Gilden.

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s ‘Heads’ series.

So really, what I hope to investigate through this project is how paparazzi style photography when applied to shooting the layman in the context of contemporary Singapore can become a premise for which to access observations about the relationship between us, the camera, and images; negotiating between the private and public domain.