What goes through the mind of a paparazzi photographer

Paparazzi photographer Giles Harrison has been in the business of "shooting celebrities" for a long, long time.

David Beckham in a car.

Rihanna putting on makeup

Ellen Pompeo out for a run.

Reese Witherspoon carries a giant orchid.

Giles Harrison puts over 2,000 miles a month on his Cadillac Escalade chasing celebrities down and snapping their photos.

But then again, Giles Harrison drives an Escalade.

We had a lot more questions for him. Here are some of the answers that kind of blow our mind(s):

What do you do if you see a celebrity?

“Let’s say I see Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas jogging through the streets of Santa Monica.  I’ll take pictures for as long as I can. If she doesn’t see me, I’ll try and follow her and see what she does post-workout. Maybe she goes to Starbucks and gets herself a smoothie. I try to get something to either add to the value of the story or break up the set -- because then I can be like, 'She works out, she gets coffee, she does this, she does that.' I’ll follow her around until she goes home. You’ve got to stick on them all day because, as mean as this sounds, the moment you leave her she could be out and get hit by a bus. And then you wouldn’t be there to witness that and get what you need.”

You take pictures because people will buy them. You've said 'the consumer is to blame.' Care to get more specific?

“What I tell people -- and I will stand by this until the day they bury me in the ground -- people in 'normal places' don’t care. People in New York don’t care. People in L.A. don’t care. It’s that Middle America demographic of people who don’t get to experience these celebrities.”

How do you make it as a paparazzi photographer?

“People who do well in this business are news photographers, because they know how to spot a story, and they know how to make a story out of a set of pictures. I had a colleague once who got just a simple picture of Madonna getting out of a car. Not a great photo. I think he may have gotten four frames. But once we looked closely at the photos we noticed she had an engagement ring on. That’s when she was engaged to Guy Ritchie before she married him and then that became the story. Those were the first pictures of Madonna wearing an engagement ring.”

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to get a shot?

“I’ve hung out of a helicopter to get aerial shots of a wedding. I mean, literally, hung out of a helicopter. I wasn’t strapped in. I had some guy holding my feet so I wouldn’t fall out. It was for Brooke Shields and Andre Agassi’s nuptials. I’ve been chased across the Gulf of Mexico in gunboats by Federales trying to get pictures of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston on their first away trip together.”

What’s the most famous photo you’ve ever snapped?

“When Michael Jackson got Debbie Rowe pregnant, I remember being sent by my picture desk and them saying, ‘Hey, we need pictures of this lady.’ And I said, ‘Who is she?’ [They said] 'Some pregnant nurse.' I took some pictures of her, took some videos of her. I said, 'This woman is popular, why?' [They said,] 'She’s having Michael Jackson’s baby.' I said, 'Bull$&%#. There’s no way this is true.' A week later it was confirmed by Michael Jackson’s people. Our pictures, our video went everywhere.”

Do you ever feel bad about what you do?

“The worst day I had morally was when I first started...This was post 9/11, so what we used to do on boring rainy days was go hang out at the airport and cover all the flights coming from New York, Miami and DC. One day Muhammad Ali was at the airport and I shot some video of him. This was before his Parkinson’s had gotten as advanced as it has, but he was sitting on his briefcase and shaking so bad. He looked so sad and so much like a shadow of his former self that I felt so bad even shooting that video. I thought 'Why am I shooting this?' 'Why is this newsworthy?' I felt really bad on that day...But that was early on in my career. After a while you kind of get hardened to the necessities of what you have to do.”

Is it feast or famine out there?

“Every little bit counts. You get a little bit here and a little bit there, but I treat every photo like it could potentially be a big story. I average about a set a day. I will shoot pretty much anything and everything. Last week I was at a newsstand reading a newspaper and Glenn Frey of The Eagles came up and he picked up the L.A. Times and then he also picked up four editions of the latest porno mags. I got pictures of it. I didn’t think it would go far. I didn’t think it would go anywhere. Those photos went everywhere. And when was the last time he did something interesting?"

 

About the author

Tommy is a producer on Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal. Before that he worked at CNN Radio as a producer, correspondent and anchor, where he covered everything from the national elections to a story where he had to hike through a New Jersey swamp wearing a blindfold. Before CNN Radio, Tommy worked at both CNN.com and CNN TV, and, before that, did a stint at This American Life.

David Beckham in a car.

Rihanna putting on makeup

Ellen Pompeo out for a run.

Reese Witherspoon carries a giant orchid.

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