This is the celebrity age. We are obsessed with celebrities and greedily consume newspaper and magazine images of them. The celebrity photo is big business and photographers can make a lot of money when they snap one. The paparazzi wait for hours on end outside nightclubs, to get a picture of someone famous coming out drunk or the worse for wear. Some of these snappers are quite shameless and deliberately provoke the celebrity into reacting aggressively. They know it will make a photo that a picture editor will want. Some will stalk a celebrity until they get the image they want. The media builds them up and then tries to knock them down again. Sitting up trees with a long lens to shoot a celebrity photo is a strange way to make a living.
A great deal of soul searching went on when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. Although the photographers who had been chasing her on that tragic night were officially cleared of any blame, a lot of people thought that they had played a significant part in the events of that night. The driver was speeding through the tunnel, having been followed at speed by photographers keen to get the ultimate celebrity photo of Diana and her boyfriend Dodi. It has been reported that some photographers took photos of Diana after the crash and before the emergency services arrived. It is common practice for the paparazzi to chase celebrities through traffic and a similar incident will probably happen again.
Of course, it’s not just the paparazzi that snap the celebrities. There is a long tradition, from the days of silent screen star Valentino, to publicize celebrities with a photo shoot. Many photographers have gained a reputation from the celebrity photo and some photos have passed into legend. In the 1930s and 1940s, the movie studios wanted their glamorous stars to pout for the camera in gorgeous dresses. Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland posed for the magazine covers like Hollywood royalty. More informal photographs came in from the 1950s, leaving us with some wonderful moments. No one knew how legendary James Dean would become when he was captured walking down the streets of New York, hunched up against the rain.
Sometimes, a photograph can become like an historical document. One such celebrity photo is the one taken of John Lennon and Yoko Ono that shows an unclothed Lennon in a fetus position, lying beside Ono. This photograph was taken on the day of Lennon’s murder and is very poignant to look at now. The celebrity photo is with us to stay whether the celebrity is a willing participant or the hunted quarry of the paparazzi.