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Click! A Picture of the Paparazzi

By Paula Span
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 3, 1992; Page C01

NEW YORK -- The paparazzi are waiting. And grumbling. And waiting some more.

Now and then a monstrous black Caddy cruises up to 150 Wooster Street, the SoHo cafe where the fabulously photogenic are supposed to turn out tonight for a charity fund-raiser. Twenty guys in leather jackets crowd so close to the limo door that an emerging celebrity might bang nose-first into one of their Nikons. Trouble is, no celebrity emerges.

"See how it is," mutters Dominick Conde, who shoots for the Star File photo agency. (That was his shot of Woody holding hands with Soon-Yi at a Knicks game that you saw everywhere last summer.) "The publicists give you all these names. You get here, nobody shows up."

Well, not precisely nobody. Actor Kevin Bacon and his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, star of "Singles," arrive as promised, stepping out of an ordinary yellow taxi. The pack is in position in seconds, jostling for space, firing off flashes, barking the commands that might cause a subject to smile right into the yelper's lens instead of a rival's. "Kyra, how ya doin'?" "This way, this way, please." "Look to your left. Kyra! Look to your left!" "Great, that's great."

But, to be blunt, the pack's heart is not in it. "You don't wanna come all the way down here for Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick," complains Kelly Jordan, who's shooting for Celebrity Photo. (That was her serendipitous shot of Sally Jessy Raphael with her seldom-photographed daughter Allison, taken shortly before the latter's death, that you saw everywhere last winter.) And the arrival of the hardly reclusive Donald Trump does little to raise Jordan's spirits. "Bad night, very bad."

Where are the models? "I never fail with models," John Mantel says wistfully. By which he means that his agency, SIPA, can peddle models' pictures to publications all over Europe, Japan, the States, giving him 50 percent of each sale. The publicist, now roundly cursed, had promised Paulina Porizkova, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford. That's why the better part of New York's paparazzi is here.

Instead, the limos disgorge anonymous blondes wrapped in scarlet spandex, obscure brunettes flashing cleavage with a capital cleave, one knockout in thigh-high leopard-skin boots -- "beautiful women, but you can't make money on these women," Conde gripes as the sidewalk vigil stretches into its third hour.

The worst of it is, other people think their lives are so glamorous. Ha! "Are you kidding me?" says Victor Malafronte, who dominates a new documentary about the paparazzi, "Blast 'Em," starting a two-week run at the Key Theatre on Friday. "You're waiting five hours to take a picture of Madonna at her new film premiere. Butterflies in your stomach. Anxiety. And then the three-second moment of truth when she steps out of the limo and the barricades are pushed over and the fans are getting trampled and the cops are pushing us. Two or three people are going to get the shot and 30 guys aren't."

Or maybe 40 guys (plus the occasional paparazza), or 50. With a growing number of publications panting for photos of Di and Sly and Daryl's black eye (about which more later), the paparazzi pack is growing too.

Sometimes, as in the recent issue of American Photo devoted to their craft, they feel they're finally getting a little respect. Other times, they feel like the Rodney Dangerfields of photography, condemned by the very public that buys all those tabloid weeklies and insatiably tunes in to "Entertainment Tonight." At a time when the celebrity craze shows no sign of slackening, and the debate over privacy no sign of resolution, some photographers themselves confess to ambivalence about what they and their competitors do.

Not Russell Turiak, though. That was his exclusive shot of Daryl Hannah and her shiner, allegedly inflicted by rocker Jackson Browne, that you saw on the cover of the National Enquirer last month, a major coup. When Turiak calls himself "a modern-day bounty hunter" or "a hit man with a camera," it is a statement of pride.

"I take pictures of people with a price on their heads," he says.

The pack and the flacks
Federico Fellini coined the term. One of the audacious celebrity photographers who prowled Rome's Via Veneto in his 1960 film "La Dolce Vita" was dubbed "Signor Paparazzo," a word referring to a pesky insect. It has come to include any photographer who traffics in snapshots of the rich and famous, but there are really two different varieties.

Most paparazzi are "event photographers," content to snap the stars at public outings. Those idling outside 150 Wooster, summoned by a listing in Entertainment News Calendar (faxed each weeknight to news outlets and photo agencies), are event photographers. So is the New York Daily News's Richard Corkery, a 25-year veteran.

When Corkery arrives at his office one autumn afternoon, 16 phone messages have piled up on his answering machine. A flack for a Brazilian revue called "Oba Oba" announces, "I have some of the most fabulous girls ever to grace the Broadway stage." Another flack confides, "I have this tall black man coming into town next week and he's in 'Candyland,' which is very scary, and maybe we could go to a graveyard or something." ("I think we can skip that," Corkery mumbles.) Leonard Nimoy and Buzz Aldrin will make a joint appearance to promote the new sci-fi cable channel. No thanks.

Only when a PR woman calls to say that Paulina and her rocker husband, Ric Ocasek, will be guests on Sally Jessy Raphael's talk show, and won't mind a few backstage shots, does Corkery perk up. Like every other paparazzo in town, he's fond of models. "How can you shoot a bad picture of a model?"

The desirability of the Daily News's People Page can get Corkery inside clubs and parties when most of the throng is left milling outside. Often, though, Corkery is behind the velvet ropes with the rest of the herd, fighting for the shots.

It's a jungle out there. There are security men the size of Airstream trailers intoning, "Gotta-get-back, gotta-get-back," like a hostile mantra. Other photographers are a major hazard: Their elbows-out jostling and pulsing strobes can so enliven an otherwise humdrum party that publicists invite them in numbers guaranteed to create chaos. A sizable percentage are near-amateurs who "wouldn't know an f-stop from a bus stop," in Malafronte's words. The advent of the auto-focus camera, and agencies' willingness to buy a photo from almost anyone, has helped swell the ranks, to the pros' disgust. "A lot of the people out there with cameras used to stand outside the stage doors; they're star-crazy," Corkery complains.

Another obstacle is the inscrutable behavior of the stars themselves. A good guy, to a paparazzo, is one who stands still and smiles for at least 30 seconds before walking into an event. Schwarzenegger and Stallone are good guys.

Then there's De Niro. "His own movie premieres, he'll run right past us," Kelly Jordan protests. "People come to parties and don't want their pictures taken? What are they doing there?"

Redford, too, decided to duck in through the back door of the Ziegfeld Theatre for the premiere of "The Natural." But Corkery, who'd been tipped by one of the informants in his network, was waiting for him. Still trying to thwart the paparazzo, Corkery reports, the star stared down at the sidewalk so intently that he walked into a brick wall. Corkery was too stunned to hit the shutter. "Sometimes you do eat your heart out," he says now.

The lubricant of this process is money, of course, but not in the amounts one might suppose. With the exception of those Europeans who seem to specialize in topless royal sunbathers, few paparazzi are getting rich. In New York, though half a dozen are thought to earn $50,000 to $80,000 a year, event photographers who work full time probably pocket more like $2,000 a month and have to pay for their film and processing besides. Conde's shot of Woody and Soon-Yi (if only it were in color, he mourns) has earned a career high of $25,000, but Star File takes half. A lot of the neophytes keep their day jobs.

The people making serious money on pictures of celebrities are the photo agency owners (including Ron Galella, Jackie O's nemesis and the acknowledged godfather of American celeb-photography), tabloid publishers and the stars whose careers get juiced in the process.

'Hey, Daryl!'
And Russell Turiak. The other sort of paparazzo -- a stakeout artist and skulker who specializes in exclusive shots for big bucks -- he is among the handful pulling six-figure incomes. Turiak has helicoptered over Michael J. Fox's wedding, sneaked onto a "Dynasty" set with a hidden camera, followed Liz Taylor around the world and gotten slugged by Burt Reynolds. For his more surreptitious approach, he says, "you have to be a psychologist and a ninja."

Take the Daryl Hannah shot on the Enquirer cover. Together with another that shows her with John Kennedy Jr. in a TriBeCa restaurant, it has earned Turiak (who's an indie and keeps it all) more than $30,000 from publications in a dozen countries. The appeal was not just the intrinsic drama of a black-eyed beauty but the always potent Kennedy connection.

How'd he get that picture? When the Enquirer hired Turiak to stalk the star, he learned her address from another paparazzo who'd once followed her home. Then, leaving his cameras in his car, he spent 10 hours hanging around her apartment building on the Upper West Side on a Wednesday and another 12 on Thursday, before Hannah and another woman finally emerged at 9:30 p.m. on Friday. "She looked like a chimney sweep in this long coat and Air Jordans," he says. "She had a hat on and she kept pulling the brim down."

Turiak tailed them for 14 blocks, trying to be inconspicuous. He glanced but never gawked. Changed his appearance by pulling a sweater on and off, putting his long hair in a ponytail and then loosening it. When the pair walked up to a theater box office, he thought he had it made: He'd learn when the movie ended and be waiting for them when they exited. But they didn't go in.

Finally, Hannah and companion ducked into an Indian restaurant, and Turiak sprinted back to get his car and his gear. He parked across the street and planned his assault. "If I go running up, she'll put her head down and do that thing with the hat," he figured. "I've seen the way she behaves; I'm only going to get it by having it set up."

So he prefocused his camera to the spot where the pair, leaving the building, would be facing him before either crossing the street or turning the corner. He counted the number of steps from the restaurant door to that spot. He hoped that a drunk loitering on the sidewalk ("Jesus, my worst nightmare") wouldn't block his shot. Then he waited in his car.

"You have to practice, to learn to concentrate, to be patient," he says. "You get distracted, they go by, and you've waited all day for nothing."

When Hannah and friend left the restaurant, Turiak counted their first three steps to gauge their pace. Then he turned his back, so the jumpy star wouldn't feel observed, and kept counting. At 17, he reached for his Nikon. At 19, he turned and raised the viewfinder to his eye. The pair passed behind the drunk he'd worried about, which had the salutary effect of shielding Turiak from his quarry's sight. At 20, he hit the shutter.

"And boom! I get one frame. She's looking right at me. She looked stunned for a moment. ... Then she turned and hid her face and ran down the street." Not until he picked his film up from the lab next morning did Turiak see that Hannah wore a large crescent bruise under her left eye. "I've been getting calls from photographers all over the world: 'Wow, nice shot. How'd you do it?' Very gratifying," he says. "You don't get this by walking up and saying, 'Hey, Daryl!' "

If that sounds like a dig at less aggressive event photographers, there is a tendency for the two camps to disparage one another. "What they do, a monkey could do" is Turiak's assessment.

(In fact, some of the grousing about Victor Malafronte of "Blast 'Em" is the film's emphasis on several extended stakeouts when Malafronte is primarily an event photographer. "We all sort of feel like Victor's scamming," says Jordan. Malafronte replies that his critics are "seething with resentment and jealousy." At any rate, he has retired from photography at 29, the better to write his autobiography. His presence at 150 Wooster Street was due entirely to an "A Current Affair" camera crew's following him for a story.)

Event photographers, for their part, sometimes prefer to dissociate themselves from their pushier colleagues, and may even disdain the term paparazzi. "I prefer to be invited and treated well," says Albert Ferreira of the David McGough agency, probably one of the city's most-published celebrity photographers.

He spotted Al Pacino (despite the star's bandanna and sunglasses) walking down Fifth Avenue recently with a new woman friend, and using a 300mm lens shot three rolls of film without the couple's noticing him -- but he didn't like it. "You are sneaking into people's lives, you are taking their privacy," he says. "I had to do the job, but I didn't feel too comfortable."

Ferreira had the legal right to take those pictures, of course, but was he violating a "zone of privacy," to borrow a term from Hillary Clinton? Why should we expect the paparazzi to have come to terms with the boundaries between public and private when no one else has?

The users and the used
Ambivalence is built into the game. "The paparazzi are the people we send out to punish the rich and famous for being rich and famous," says David Schonauer, editor of American Photo. Photos of stars looking sick, drunk, debilitated, fat or compromised are worth more to photo editors than those of stars looking glamorous and waving to fans. Perhaps the public appreciates graphic evidence that big shots, too, blow their diets, have bad hair days, grow older.

It may even be a useful counterweight to the adulation such people attract. Every paparazzo rolls his eyes at the stars' egos, their legions of stylists and flacks and gofers, their ultimatums. "When Vanity Fair wants a picture of Goldie Hawn or someone, the celebrity will demand approval rights of the photographer assigned and which shots will be used," Schonauer notes. "It takes a certain degree of spontaneity and energy out of these pictures. The paparazzi are an antidote to all that: This is a way to get pictures that are out of the celebrities' control."

Yet there's little agreement about where the line should be drawn between fair game and deplorable harassment. Corkery scorns photographers who trail the stars home from events after said stars have cooperatively posed for the pack. Yet Corkery once stalked Greta Garbo and was delighted to follow her into a D'Agostino's supermarket; his shots of Garbo cruising the frozen food counter were plastered all over the Daily News. Ferreira got even luckier when he staked out Garbo. He followed her and a companion to New York Hospital, charged up when their car door opened and grabbed three frames. They proved to be the last shots anyone ever took of the ailing legend.

Was Garbo entitled to privacy as she checked into a hospital? Was she more entitled to privacy than grieving families of homicide victims, starving Somalians, or all the other individuals whose images are determined to have news value?

Complicating the equation is photographers' awareness that they are being used as well as using; they've become part of the entertainment industry. They make events seem glitzy. They keep people who need to be there in the public eye. The "private" moments the stars deny to the paparazzi are sometimes for sale to the highest-bidding publication.

Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith's wedding in Aspen took place after dark, alas, thwarting Russell Turiak, who was fluttering overhead (and, he says, being shot at) in a helicopter. Does he deserve censure, if not gunshot wounds, for this persecution of two B-list stars at an intimate moment?

"How do you suppose I knew to be there?" Turiak explodes. "Maybe an agent, a representative, calls up the Star and the Enquirer and People to sell the wedding photos. It's about publicity! Who created the nuisance, me by being there or him by letting everyone know? I'd do it again."

And yet where do paparazzi, whose livelihood derives in large part from tabloids, most want their photos to run? In Time and Newsweek and Life, in fashion magazines like Vogue, on the cover (Turiak's ambition) of Rolling Stone. They'd like respectability.

But they'd also like to run into Marlon Brando in a blind alley, nab a really swell shot of Warren and Annette and the baby, and be the first to document whatever Madonna's new look turns out to be. Everyone knows that the guy who shot Fergie and her paramour poolside never has to click another shutter. It's still a business, a fairly cutthroat one, and not without its satisfactions.

"What's the alternative, standing in a precinct house taking pictures of some criminal?" Corkery wonders aloud. "Covering some explosion with bodies all over? Hey, at least I'm seeing the popcorn part of life."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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