With Photography Comes Responsibility: Why Recent Paparazzi Activities Are Dangerous for Photographers and Their Rights

A group of Paparazzi outside a private establishment.

We’ve done reports over stories that we hear of how people have been treated by police when practicing photography in public. Most of the time they’re journalists, bystanders, or someone trying to expose police in acts they probably shouldn’t be committing in the first place. And we’ve always treated the subject with importance because photography isn’t a crime. A state isn’t truly free if it isn’t a state that builds on a right to a freedom of speech, and photography is one method of that freedom of speech. But what about when photography itself is used in an abusive manner? Like the case just a few weeks back involving the subway guy from Massachusetts? Photographers should never be punished for taking pictures in public, but that statement itself comes with responsibilities on the photographers themselves. I want to focus a bit on something that really blurs the line between what’s appropriate and what isn’t: paparazzi photography.

This post comes after recent news of Kanye West settling a case involving an incident last July in where he assaulted a photographer as he was trying to leave the LAX airport. Before you pick up your pitchforks at me bringing him up, understand why I decided to bring him up. Out of any of the many celebrities that are mobbed today by paparazzi, Kanye West is arguably the most controversial through how may times his impulsive actions have become headlines for paparazzi on TMZ.

In today’s world, the job for a paparazzi is easier. We have smaller, easier-to-use cameras, and we have the ability to share our shots literally minutes after they get taken. In today’s culture (at least for the West), celebrities’ lives have the tendency to be under even more constant of a spotlight. And because of how much people today love finding YouTube videos of two guys getting into a fight, and how excited we get whenever something controversial happens, it’s become an unfortunate trend for paparazzi to try provoking their subjects. Think about how easily aggravated police typically come off as on amateur videos we see of them, or think of how an average person will usually always react with hostility if he or she realizes they’re being photographed. Now put a celebrity, someone who deals with flashes in their face every day, and imagine how easy it is for them to crack the same way.

That’s pretty much why Kanye is where he is right now in the eyes of paparazzi. The more videos of him that appear, the more paparazzi that start coming after him in hopes of a good paycheck. He’s become an easy target. Even normal citizens have realized the worth of an amateur paparazzi video and what it can do: an 18 year old kid recently got paid more than $250,000 in a settlement with the rapper after he was punched by him a few months back. The reason he was punched in the first place was because of the insults he started yelling at Kanye’s wife while paparazzi were swarming around her, with the phrase “N***er-lover” being used. The kid literally got college and half his future debts paid off because of yelling a racist slur at a man’s wife and getting hit for it.

When we look at stories like this from a psychological perspective, it’s apparent that there’s something incredibly wrong here. Paparazzi photography is used for a paycheck, and then those same videos are used to incriminate subjects right away if they react in a violent manner, like a normal human being likely would. It’s a problem because it’s a form of hypocrisy: these photographers hide behind the argument that photography is not a crime, and then take away the freedoms of others through mere provocation. This is what sets apart the difference between photography and aggressive photography. One isn’t a crime, but the other may as well be. Photographers need to understand that they should capture what they see, but they should never interfere with what they’re shooting in the first place. In the case of paparazzi, those who do their job in the wrong way shouldn’t be an example of paparazzi who do their job in a respectful manner.

For those of us who are able to photograph freely in public, we’re already incredibly lucky to be able to do so. There’s places out there that absolutely condemn speech like that. And that’s why it’s important to remember that while we defend photography as something that is not meant to be a crime, we practice that photography as respectfully and responsibly as we can. Otherwise, those rights can just as well be taken away.

[Photo (cc) by Jerry Raia]

  • Shooter

    Well said, afraid you might be preaching to the converted though.

  • Street photographer

    Norman human beings react violently when photographed? That’s news to me and the entire genre of street photography. Most people don’t care.

    Why bring cameras into it. Just stop these people with regular recklessness, disturbing the peace, stalking, etc. charges.

  • Jared Lawson

    Thanks for this article, crazy times with photography and the dangers of paparazzi – a fine line indeed. California Portrait Photographer

  • Raven Youngblood

    I understand both sides of the story….what I do not understand is how somebody/anybody would call him a nigger or her a nigger-lover. Webster defines a nigger as a sorry person…it NEVER calls out a certain color/race.

    The man is rich, therefore making him a big, easier target/paycheck.

    The judge should have fined both persons involved, and had all money go to the local school system.

    I love street photography, but at the same time I respect the people I photograph. If they really shows signs of displeasure because I snapped a photo, I’ll stop and move on…most people just smile for the camera, then I’ll move on anyways.

  • Bob Vest

    “It’s a problem because it’s a form of hypocrisy: these photographers hide behind the argument that photography is not a crime, and then take away the freedoms of others through mere provocation.”

    Which freedoms did the photographer take away in this instance? If the photographer did make that comment it merely shows he was being a crass jerk. Even though he may have been acting like a jerk, Kanye has no right to respond to verbal attacks with violence.So I ask, what freedoms did the photog take away?

    • Gordon Lewis

      Oh, I don’t know… how about the freedom to walk down the street without someone actively and aggressively harassing and objectifying you?

      • Bob Vest

        While that is nice to have, it’s not necessarily a ‘freedom’. And definitely one that requires a physical assault to remedy.

  • Charlie

    Imagine yourself out with your wife getting some dinner. Imagine that when you leave, you are swarmed by men who are flashing lights in your eyes and yelling racial slurs. How would you react? One could argue that the situation caused extreme emotional disturbance, and with the use of racial slurs being used, a hate crime. With the confusion and disorientation of speedlights and flashes firing off into ones eyes, the yelling of paparazzi, and the swarming of people around them, one may reasonably assume the risk of bodily harm was imminent. It is sad that we are punishing this man for defending himself and his wife. On a side note, my wife is asian and I am white. If someone were to come to me on the street and shout racial slurs toward us, they would be limping away minus a few teeth.

    • Michael Turcotte

      So my protected activity (Free Speech) is justification for your illegal activity (battery)?

  • http://www.markhoustonphotography.com/ mthouston

    The paparazzi are just giving the people what they want. Take the profit out of the star stalking and the problem will goes away. But of course if you don’t stalk the stars how will know who the stars are.