Paparazzi, Photographers’ Rights, and the Right to Live a Dignified Life


Paparazzi photography is a topic that has come up quite a bit in recent days, with most of the stories putting the camera wielders in a pretty bad light. Joerg Colberg over on Conscientious has a thought provoking piece on how photographers’ rights seem to be trumping basic human decency — with the blessing of our culture.

I am not going to actually show the photograph I am going to write about. [It] shows a young woman in the center of the frame who is surrounded by six male figures […] five are photographers. They’re photographers we call paparazzi. The young woman – actress Sienna Miller – is caught “mid-action”: Her posture looks defensive, her arms are raised, in particular her right one, as if to defend herself from the paparazzo at the left edge of the frame whose gaze is centered on her […] The activities that produce photographs like the one I am talking about here are widely accepted.

If you did not know anything about paparazzi your impression might be very different: A young woman surrounded by young men, in a very defensive posture, looking terrified – that’s imagery we usually attribute to assault, to the presence of physical or emotional violence […] Does our right to make or take any photograph really trump people’s right to live dignified lives?

Meditations on Photographs: A Terrified Young Woman Surrounded by A Group of Male Photographers by an unknown paparazzo [Conscientious]

  • Scott M

    It is simply hunters and game. Trophy photos pay big money. Seems that most of the sucessful hunters have a network of informants who alert them of good prey. I am sure the informants get a cut. All my photographer friends in SoCal despise them, calling them the lowest scum. Give street photography a bad image.

  • matt jones

    I think most people agree this is not good, I wonder if there are any suggestions on how to ameliorate this but not stomp on photographs rights to photograph in public?

  • Samcornwell

    What is this fascinating image at the top?

  • bob cooley

    What’s truly sad about this is that while on the one hand photographer’s rights seem to trump decency and ethics when it comes to the paparazzi (who are really less photographers than stalkers with cameras) while legitimate journalists, architectural, street and enthusiast photographers are often being challenged (and sometimes detained) for photographing buildings, protests, etc.

    Its almost as if mass-media is telling you “your artistic vision or important social commentary isn’t important – but another photo of a young starlet getting out of a car (hopefully sans panties) is important) – oh wait, its not almost like that, its EXACTLY like that. Sad.

  • Samuel

    There are more pressing moral and ethical debates to be had in photography than paparazzi. Thats not to say it isn’t important but it is all somewhat trivial given that photojournos in syria are having their photos left out due to safety concerns and the likes.

    When you are famous you and your press agents, assistants etc have the job of keeping you famous. Its surely not beyond the ability of a celebrity to book a flight from somewhere and keep it confidential and make it through their day without asking for the attention. But when you tweet “landing at heathrow soon hello england xx” and there is big money up for your photo you can’t blame paparazzi from turning up at the airport after a bit of “investigative” journalism

  • Ken Jones

    I’ve got one: apply the same standard to paparazzi as anyone on the street. In the above photo–which you can use Google Image search to find–take away the cameras and this feels very much like harassment.

    Yes, folks have a right to be wherever they want subject to property rights. Yes, they have the right to approach anyone on the street and speak with them. However, the conversation has to be two way. You can’t force yourself into a street conversation. If that other party tells you to leave them alone, then you have a legal obligation to do so–otherwise it’s harassment. Will it fit your statements statute for harassment, I don’t know. In South Carolina, after getting a more clear picture of the situation, a charge of harassment could be brought against those individuals.

    I wouldn’t call simply walking along and snapping a photo, sans, flash, from a reasonable, respectable distance harassment. But when you’re being chased by several guys, and by your very action tells them that you don’t want the contact, having those massive flash guns blinding you with every pop, then, yes, the line has been crossed.

    Remember, a camera does NOT grant anyone special privileges.

  • Roger M

    Completely agree. Mr. Colberg naively assigns a “truth” to this photograph, which is that of a young woman who is terrified. He should know better, as elsewhere on his blog he denies the possibility of such a reading. What’s more, paparazzi and their subjects live in a quite cozy symbiotic relationship, fueled by the subject’s need to remain famous. It is quite hilariously inept to assign the role of victim to an individual who makes millions from their fame and who has publicists working full time to make sure that fame is maintained by among other things encouraging the dissemination of lots and lots of images. So the “truth” of what we see here is probably closer to someone who is being inconvenienced by the occasional rigors of their job–which is to remain famous. Or does Mr. Colberg think that Ms. Miller makes her millions by her acting talent alone?

  • Nelly

    The guy’s article reads like it was his final paper for his Psych 101 class