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“How do you sleep at night?”
This is a common reaction when someone learns what I do for a living. No, I don’t get paid to kill people. I don’t sell drugs to infants, either. I’m a photo editor.
Oh, and I work for the paparazzi.
I sit in an office where I regurgitate thousands of photos of royals, politicians, A-listers, Z-listers, and everyone in between. The pictures are sent to us by photographers that either work for my agency or other photo agencies around the world. The editing process is short -- there is no time for tedious nitpicking or retouching. I simply package them up to sell (crop, caption, rinse, repeat) and then send them to newspapers, magazines, television programs, news and entertainment Web sites and PR agencies in every country. They buy our photos and publish them along with pretty much any story they want based on the basic information we include in the captions: who, what, where and when.
In short, I’m a smut peddler.
The media doesn’t do us any favors in terms of paparazzi perception, even though we go together like Velcro. The most famous incident that threw our industry under the bus, of course, was Princess Diana’s death. If you ask someone how she died, 9 out of 10 will blame the paparazzi. It doesn’t matter that it was widely reported that a speeding drunk driver, not the paparazzi, killed Princess Diana.
Miley Cyrus tweeted about it last week following the news that a pap named Chris Guerra was struck and killed by a car while on the job. “Paparazzi are dangerous!” she ranted. “Wasn’t Princess Di enough of a wake up call?!” Sensational headlines on TMZ say the deceased photographer “HARASSED AND STALKED” (all caps theirs -- not mine) Justin Bieber.
So does this mean he deserved to die? There are no quotes in that TMZ article from anyone that knew Guerra. Instead, it’s all statements from “well-connected Bieber sources” accusing a man who can’t defend himself of being a stalker. Comments from readers go so far as saying, “One less sh**bag pap isn’t a bad thing.”
This is how a paparazzo works: He or she gets an assignment, covers the story and hands off the memory card. The pictures get packaged up, sent out and someone else decides how to use them.
In other words, don’t blame the waitress for how your steak is cooked.
Look, I’m not denying that we as an industry regularly push morals aside in favor of the demand for dirt. I get asked to write obituaries for people who aren’t dead yet. I listened to Whitney Houston’s drug dealer rationalize why he sold coke to her on the day she died. Publicists tip us off whenever their client goes shopping or prances around in a bikini or breathes. One actress’s boyfriend, unbeknownst to her, hired us to follow them during their “romantic” vacation in Hawaii.
Which brings me to the ultimate secret of the entertainment industry: a lot of stories are fabricated for publicity purposes. You know, like the pop stars that fall in love right before their new albums drop. Or the heartthrob that conveniently starts dating the leading lady while filming a big blockbuster. Contracts are signed to determine the amount of public appearances “couples” need to make together. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens when the proverbial gossip pot needs a stir. And the public eats. It. Up.
It has taken me a while to realize this is the nature of the business. I would say the majority of my agency’s production comes from a special assignment from a magazine, a set-up story with a publicist, or a tip from a “well-connected source” (a.k.k. a reporter, a hotel employee, an assistant, or -- SURPRISE! -- the celebrities themselves).
At the end of the day, the majority of people who judge my profession are still buying our product. If you watch pretty much anything on TV, or pick up that next issue of People, or log on to TMZ or Radar Online, or simply skim the headlines as you check out at the grocery store –- congratulations! You are the monster that feeds me! My job will continue to exist as long as the Honey Boo Boos and the Lindsay Lohans of the world do.
It’s easy to use the paparazzi as scapegoats, but I know we aren’t always the bad guys. We just do the dirty work. And in a weird way I feel like my job helps people escape the mundane normality of their everyday life, like if they went to a movie or jumped out of an airplane.
And, by the way: I sleep just fine.