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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.