History & Toxicity of Paparazzi

Stella Jia, News Editor

Flash. Click. Capture. The momentum builds as singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes leaves his Florida abode to take some fresh air from his quarantine shelter. The life of a paparazzo has always been one that fed on drama, attention, and the thrill; however, in this unprecedented time, it has become increasingly difficult to capture those moments. Paparazzo are under a unique circumstance given the limitations placed by health codes. But how did this fame chasing lifestyle begin?


The occupation of these freelance photographers whose role is to capture lifestyle pictures of celebrities originated in the late 1950s when magazines yearned for more candid photographs of famous personalities, especially those that put the celebrity in a compromising position. The first photo which accomplished just that was in Rome, in 1958, taken by Tazio Secchiaroli. Secchiaroli’s target was King Farouk of Egypt, who was pictured with two other women, neither of which was his wife. This photograph marked the beginning of an era of new sneaky photography known now as paparazzi. The word “paparazzi” was coined a little later by Italian film producer Federico Felleni who created a film about the culture of Rome at the time. Secchiaroli was included in the film under the character name “Paparazzo” which reminded Felleni of “a buzzing insect.” Ever since the film, photographers like Secchiaroli who aggressively worked for unstaged photos of celebrities have been referred to as the plural form of “Paparazzo”: paparazzi. 


From the get-go, the motives behind paparazzi were never positive. Magazines wanted drama-stirring photos of celebrities for their magazine to gain attention for their publication. In the past few decades, the limits that paparazzi are pushing to capture photos of celebrities have gotten to the point of extreme intrusion on their personal life. Audiences and fans thrive on seeing their favorite or hated celebrities out at a grocery store or caught in an immoral act. However, there is a limit to the extent to which their personal lives should be exposed. 


One of the most excruciating paparazzi moments was the death of Princess Diana. She was constantly put under the flashes and clicks of the paparazzi and would find herself with chauffeurs having to go overspeed to escape the limelight. For the most part, there wasn’t any trouble with escaping the paparazzi in a vehicle until one day in 1997 when the dangerous speed of the car led to a devastating crash and unfortunately, her death. 


The aftermath of that matter changed the media forever. There have been various incidents later on caused by the paparazzi like in 2005 when Lindsay Lohan was driving away from the camera and crashed her car, and in 2008 when Kanye West trashed the equipment of a nearby photographer at the airport. These encounters have even led to legal confrontations in more recent years, like in 2017 when George Clooney issued a lawsuit to the paparazzo that appeared to have climbed over fences to get photos of Clooney’s family in his home in Italy.


The uptick of social media in recent years has caused an increasing thirst for both fans and paparazzi to capture these candid moments. Along with the increase in online media, many fans have learned the importance of their personal lives staying private and how many factors should be kept private rather than shared publicly with photographs or videos. With this in mind, a celebrity’s fame should never be one that feeds on the backs of these freelance photographers and the industry itself is problematic in letting that happen. When there are more photos of celebrities floating throughout the internet, it fuels the thirst for fans to want more and thus builds the paparazzi’s desire to take more. 


The paparazzi age is definitely past its horrific prime as both fans and photographers are not overstepping extreme personal boundaries. Some recent paparazzi have captured celebrities turning the encounter into a more positive situation by holding up posters that brought to light important organizations or issues. Leonardo DiCaprio is notorious for his “clever” disguises and playful reactions to the paparazzi. Even with these amusing reactions, it is still essential to be aware that celebrities’ personal lives should be kept private if they wish so and dedicated fans should respect their privacy as well.