Neon Tommy, the online publication of the Annenberg School of Journalism, just did a fantastic story about Richard Terry, who was a was a house painter before X17 hired him to follow and photograph celebrities in Los Angeles. The summer of 2005, Terry sat in the sand outside of Jennifer Aniston's Malibu beach house every day for two weeks.
When Courtney Cox finally walked by, Terry was spacing out, shirtless, and using his former t-shirt as a camera case. He scrambled together his camera fast enough to catch Aniston holding Cox's baby. And then, after taking three pictures, the memory card on Terry's camera was full.
He had killed those two and a half weeks waiting for Aniston by "taking pictures of seagulls and all this other shit." The pictures were enough, however.
The photo agency X17 sold them for over $100,000 worldwide, according to X17 co-founder Brandy Navarre. Terry said he earned a profit of about $11,000 for lots of waiting and only a few seconds of actual work.
It could be argued that as a reaction to glossy magazines presenting celebrities as perfect, with flawlessly Photoshopped skin, readers gobble up tabloids (and blogs) which feature candid, unscripted shots — stars dressed down, getting laundry. Photo agencies like X17 — and their employees — make big bucks, while in a poor economy, Condé Nast magazines and small newspapers fold. (A Vietnam vet was homeless until X17 lent him a camera; now he has an apartment in the upscale L.A. neighborhood of Brentwood; in early 2008, The Atlantic did an extensive piece on X17's unique relationship with Britney Spears).
Mediabistro's Pandora Young writes:
"X17 co-founder Brandy Navarre said X17's regular, L.A.-based photographers usually make anywhere from $800 to $3000 per week, depending on their output This is about half as much as they made in 2007, Navarre said, thanks to the economy and Britney Spears' newfound sanity." Just to put that in perspective, the average annual salary of a photojournalist - the kind of photographer who has years of formal training and covers hard news - is $28,275."
Stalking celebrities with a camera can be called disgusting, ridiculous, shallow or a necessary evil. But here's what's true: It's lucrative.
Adrien Grenier's documentary, Teenage Paparazzo, just landed a deal at Sundance, and involves Grenier attempting to mentor a 13-year-old celebrity snapper. Austin Visschedyk (aka Pocket Pap) was born in L.A., and, according to his bio, "is very bright but he has never fit into the standard classroom experience." What — if anything — he learns from Grenier through the course of the film remains to be seen. As for Richard Terry, he says: "I'm damn lucky to have a good job."
A Day In The Life Of A Paparazzo [Neon Tommy]
Sundance: Deals For 'Teenage Paparazzo,' 'happythankyoumoreplease' [The Wrap]
It's Good To Be A Paparazzi [Mediabistro]