Posted by Ryan Torok
Adam’s paparazzi, and he’s photographed the likes of Brad Pitt, Michael Jackson and the Kardashians. He works for a small agency that buys his photographs and distributes them to publications like People magazine. I met him in Beverly Hills, where he was “roaming” – a paparazzi term for wandering from hot location to another hot location – for celebrities.
A couple hours before I met him, Nicky Hilton was photographed in the neighborhood, but Adam wasn’t around for her. He did catch her mother though, Kathy Hilton, coming out of a nail salon, and he shot some photographs of her.
I spoke with Adam (Adam isn’t his real name and he was reluctant to say where he lived) about the business of being in paparazzi, the reputation of paparazzi versus the reality and what it’s like day-to-day. Adam explained it’s not as a lucrative as it once was.
“It was big money in the middle of the 2000 decade and then it sort of simmered down a bit, maybe waiting for its next big story, like a Britney Spears melt-down kind of story or something. Maybe it’s just the economy, like everything else. But then there’s big-name agencies and shows, like Access Hollywood and TMZ that are still big consumers of it. The international market is still very strong…the British tabloids and magazines and TV shows. The average photographer works for an agency and um, submits media constantly day and night and that immediately goes around the world to whoever wants to purchase the rights to use it.
JJ: Why did you get into this field?
A: I’ve shot documentaries and TV and film for a long time and it just didn’t – especially in L.A. , it’s hard not to be interested in celebrity culture, so I added that to my repertoire of what I do. Um, about three years ago [I got into the business of paparazzi].
JJ: What’s your proudest moment as a member of the paparazzi?
A: Ah, proudest moment? It was hard to say it was a proud thing, but, um [he decides not to share it].
JJ: Least proud moment as a a member of the paparazzi?
A: I don’t have many. I, uh, follow the rules and have some morals. My hands are clean.
JJ: Does one develop his or her own moral code? Or are there are a set of rules that everyone is aware of and has to abide by? I imagine both maybe are true?
A: Well, there’s definitely CA law and most of us follow it. and some people…sometimes they don’t, and usually that has to do with traffic and people chasing celebrities and getting into accidents, which most of us have nothing to do. Most people they know to be in public places, shooting photos of public figures, that are of public interest, and that’s what we do. So sidewalks and shopping on rodeo drive, or uh, that’s pretty much public domain where celebrities are expecting to be seen and noticed and photographed and that’s what most paparazzi do.
JJ: Is there anything you are allowed to do but you choose not to because you’re not comfortable with it?
A: Um, I keep it pretty clean. I do what celebrities expect would be done when they go out. Ill shoot red carpet parties, ill shoot events, ill shoot Christmas shopping on Rodeo Drive. That’s what I do, that’s me personally. There are people who do other things I guess. But mostly there’s a law, a set of laws, there’s trespassing laws, there’s privacy laws…these days, people pretty much know what they’re supposed to do.
JJ: How old are you?
A: I’m in my forties.
JJ: What do people in your life think about your job?
A: Most think it’s really cool, especially those that are not in Los Angeles. They think it’s the most glamorous and interesting thing…people that don’t know us, some have a problem with it, some think, uh, it’s not really a job, but, then again, a lot of them might be miserable at their desk jobs, so, a little jealous of somebody that’s hanging around and talking to celebrities all day and being in magazines and on TV.
JJ: Run me through a typical day for you.
A: A typical day would be in the morning get my coffee, look for who’s also getting coffee that might be an interesting subject or story. Um, walk around Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, into shopping areas, observe who might be shopping; um, I’ll be with my family for a little while, take an early day – not leavin’ early if I were at a desk job – spend some time with family, have dinner and usually in the nighttime look for news stories around restaurants and night clubs.
JJ: How late do you usually work?
A: About 9 or 10. Some people shoot all night, but people who shoot in the day or night have to have some personal time. So I set my own schedule. I work – I set a 40-hour schedule. I spread it out and I have a lot more flexibility. It’s like any freelancer, spread it out and just be flexible.
JJ: How did you get into it?
A: I just shot a lot of things for TV and photography before. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for a long time and know what’s been going on with celebrities a lot, where things are always happening and who are interesting celebrities. I’ve always been following all of entertainment news, so I know who are the interesting stories that would make money and what wouldn’t. So it made sense being close to it all to start making money at it.
JJ: Where do you live?
A: In the 3-1-0 area code.
JJ: What are some of the most giving spots around town?
A: Um, Rodeo Drive; Robertson Blvd.; The Grove, although sometimes I don’t know if people are allowed to shoot there – I don’t go there. Um, let’s see, this is all daytime interesting things. Um, certain stores – like Fred Segal is an interesting store. Barney’s is an interesting store. And at night there’s just a lot of restaurants that are well known restaurants.
JJ: What’s something that you don’t think most people know about the paparazzi business or world that they people should know?
A: Um, that there’s a lot of really good people. Men and women, interestingly enough, that are making a good living doing something interesting and I think that that’s kind of missed sometimes when people see a whole group of people standing around, apparently picking on someone. But I think what people need to remember is that someone makes tens-of-millions of dollars of year for being famous and popular, and this is all part of what they do. And they are very well aware of it. those celebrities are very well aware and quite often work with us to get the photos done.
JJ: Favorite Jewish celebrity and have you ever photographed him or her?
A: Okay, I have no idea. Um, is Megan Fox Jewish?
JJ: Not that I know of. Natalie Portman’s Jewish.
A: Okay, so that’s my answer right there. Natalie Portman, sure.
JJ: Have you ever photographed her?
JJ: How religious are you? How observant are you?
JJ: Do you go to temple?
JJ: Is it against the rules to go – how do you feel about photographing Jews who are going into temple for the High Holy Days?
A: Oh I don’t do that. I don’t do churches either. Except weddings. Weddings are a monumental celebrity event. They are not the same as a religious ceremony.
JJ: What Jewish values or lessons from Torah can you apply to your job as a paparazzi member?
A: Not ‘Honor your parents.’ Let’s see. Just all around – just in general keep-you-in-check-be-a-good-person helps because it really doesn’t get you very far to cross moral or legal lines, doing anything like this. It gets you nowhere.
JJ: Do you know other Jewish paparazzi?
A: No, we’re a loosely-knit group. We don’t hang out at each other home’s everyday.
Too bad, I thought, and I left my new pal to his work.
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December 19, 2011 | 5:01 pm
Posted by Ryan Torok
Last weekend, I met Elaine and Lee, an older retired couple, in a Starbucks in the Santa Monica area. They were talking about Robert Reich, the former U.S. labor secretary to President Bill Clinton.
I saw Reich speak not too long ago at an Occupy L.A. event, so I decided to strike up conversation with Elaine and Lee.
If nothing else, brief conversations with strangers always distract me from my personal issues.
Turns out Elaine and Lee are Jewish, and liberal. Very liberal. And big believers in education.
Elaine, who was sitting with an abridged guide to Chanukkah in front of her, and Lee both think that education is the key to solving this country’s problems and that democrats understand why and republicans don’t.
Lee pointed out that if you ask republicans why education is important, they’ll tell you that it’s so you can get a good job when you’re older.
If you ask a democrat, he or she say it’s so that they can become active citizens, Lee said.
It reminded me of something I read by Rabbi Sharon Brous—a High Holy Days sermon, entitled “Spiritual State of the Union,” which emphasizes the importance of empathy.
What Lee was saying, basically, is that democrats are empathetic.
I thought about this some more: obviously, democrats don’t have a monopoly on empathy. There are Republicans who are empathetic (although HBO’s Bill Maher might disagree with me), but this idea that democrats care and republicans, well, don’t, is a prevailing view in pop culture. Where does this come from?
Well, for starters, people like Bill Maher. And bands like Radiohead, whom I named this blog after. They espouse rhetoric about the unfeeling-ness of Republicans, their callous indifference to the suffering of others, their preoccupation with helping the wealthy. Every political article in Rolling Stone magazine, it seems, is about this topic, the greediness of Republicans.
Hollywood, too, is responsible for the caricature of Republicans as pink-faced dummies who just care about money and hunting. There’s a scene in “The American President,” a movie I’m not ashamed to say I love, starring Michael Douglas as the president of the United States. Richard Dreyfuss plays Bob Rumsfeld, a Republican candidate running against him for office. In one scene, Rumsfeld and his aides are in a meeting in a room that looks like a cigar parlor, talking about hunting in-between plans to take down the president on the campaign trail. They’re made to look pretty stupid.
More proof of Hollywood bias: In 2008, a film called “An American Carol” was released, a David Zucker film that spoofed Michael Moore and liberals. The movie came and went, didn’t do much business.
Hollywood, I remember reading, wanted nothing to do with “An American Carol,” which probably hurt the film in the end.
It’s a cliche that liberals dominate Hollywood, but maybe it’s true.
Maher, Radiohead, Rolling Stone and Hollywood mislead, of course. There have to be some republicans who care.
Elaine and Lee care a lot about the future of this country—specifically, education. Elaine said that school is nothing but standardized tests that don’t teach students how to become engaged when they’re older. My own education experience was somewhere in the middle.
The middle—that’s where things need to go. We need more people who believe in empathy and self-interest. Those people might put this country on the right track.
Lee and Elaine think so too, although they don’t seem to think anyone but democrats are capable.
Lee also said it’s the rare person who has both, the empathy and the capacity to take on endeavors where the primary goal is personal gain.
This past weekend, my friend and I had a conversation about personal balance, about people who are charismatic and intelligent. My friend said this balance is rare. Practically nobody has it – President Bill Clinton being the exception, my friend said. The coincidence between him saying Clinton and my conversation with Elaine and Lee starting because of Reich didn’t occur to me until now.
Anywho, maybe it’s something to strive for. This New Years, maybe we should make a related resolution. Maybe we should all work toward balance, whatever that may mean for each of us individually.
December 16, 2011 | 10:54 am
Posted by Ryan Torok
I woke up this morning to a text message from my father: “Christopher Hitchens died.”
The writer and public intellectual died on Dec. 15 at the age of 62 from esophageal cancer. Hitchens was 38-years-old when he found out that he was Jewish.
“He had an output to equal what he took in,” editor Graydon Carter wrote in a tribute to Hitchens in Vanity Fair yesterday. Hitchens wrote regularly for the publication. He also wrote for Slate.
Jeffrey Goldberg has written about him as well. Today, Golbderg wrote, “I don’t think he would mind me saying that I thank God for the privilege of knowing him.”
It’s true. Hitchens, who, as strong as his convictions in his beliefs, was committed to having a sense of humor about himself and, well, life, probably would not have minded this statement. From what I’ve read by Hitchens, he seems to have respected, more than anything, intellect and honesty. Goldberg appears to committed to that the way Hitchens was, so it’s no wonder the two had a relationship.
Reading “Hitch-22,” his memoir released in 2010, I most enjoyed the section about him aligning with Salmon Rushdie in the wake of the controversy that emerged after Rushdie published “The Satanic Verses.” Rushdie’s book upset radical Muslims—Rushdie went into hiding, in fact, as a fatwa was issue against him, and Hitchens – or Hitch, as he was called – helped Rushdie during this time.
As I read “Hitch-22,” which I picked up not along after I started at the Journal to prepare for an event put on by ALOUD, a local lecture series, for which Hitchens was scheduled to appear – he cancelled at the last minute, as this was during the onset of his sickness (the event was in June 2010, and Hitchens announced his sickness in 2010) – I underlined phrases that resonated with me. One of my favorites happened to be in the acknowledgements section at the end of the book: a writer’s “promiscuous mandate is to be interested in everything.”
In his tribute to Hitchens, Carter reinforces that Hitchens’ mind was wide open it came to taking on assignments. From going overseas and writing about nations entrenched in violent conflicts, putting himself in the middle of the action, to writing about a spa treatment in an article about self-improvement, Hitchens lived up to the task of being interested in everything.
“He’d also subject himself to any manner of humiliation or discomfort in the name of his column,” Carter said.
As a writer, to be interested in everything is something I aspire to, and it’s advice that would behoove anybody – regardless of their career, I think – to take.