I just emailed my photo to Adrian Grenier. He asked me to. Me, and about 200 others in the audience last night at Zócalo Public Square's event, “Are We All Paparazzi Now?” at the Getty Center.
It was an experiment, so he said. More like a little trick. Per his instruction, we all had our phones out ready to shoot — him, we assumed — but at the last second he told us to turn the cameras on ourselves. Send him the photo, he said, and he'll post it on his production company's website. “You're all part of this collective experience,” he said.
Are we? Perhaps he was just trying to make us feel important. Or perhaps he was trying to illustrate how simultaneously voyeuristic and exhibitionist we all are. Either way, it was one of the many ambiguous answers provided last night to the panel's title question.
On the stage with Grenier were Carol Squiers, curator at the International Center of Photography; Carolyn Davis, an editor at Us Weekly; and an actual hardcore L.A. paparazzo, Galo Ramirez. The discussion was moderated by L.A. Times writer Carla Hall.
Grenier was not just the token celebrity, nor was he present because he played one on TV. He's in the midst of promoting a documentary he produced called Teenage Paparazzo, which follows a 14-year-old pap-in-training in an attempt to uncover what's behind the world's obsession with celebrity.
Though one would think Grenier would vilify the paparazzi and the tabloids that publish their photos, he's actually quite compassionate toward them, perhaps because he has studied their perspective so closely. He sees photography, even that of unsuspecting celebrities, as simply a form of storytelling, and “there's nothing inherently wrong with storytelling,” he asserted more than once. He continued, “I don't have sympathy for celebrities because they've chosen to be performers.”
In fact, he went on to explain that actors and actresses, musicians and the like — those for whom fame once was reserved — need the attention more than ever. If fame follows Newton's laws, there's only so much of it to go around, so “real” celebrities are clamoring to maintain their status in a world where reality stars, YouTube sensations and the “Twitter famous” are stealing their thunder. “Media and attention are vehicles for making money,” Grenier stated plainly. In other words, if you're not getting the former, it's harder to get the latter.
Still, Grenier did have some reservations about paparazzi photos, and he challenged the other panelists on the issue. When Davis defended her choice to publish a photo of a celebrity's child at an ice cream store but not at the child's school (which she worries would be identifiable) she simply said those two scenarios are “not the same.” Grenier countered, seeing little difference. To him, photos of children, who obviously have no choice in the matter, should be all but off-limits. “I commend you for making choices,” he told Davis, “but I wish you would go further.” He added, “Are these the kinds of stories we want to tell?”
Grenier disagreed with Squiers' concern that paparazzi are “thugs,” but said he could see her underlying point — that the industry is unregulated. Unlike journalists who typically go through a credentialing process before covering an event, paparazzi are free to camp outside a celebrity's house for days with no identifying materials or background checks. Ramirez didn't deny this discrepancy. “We're who gave bodyguards their jobs,” he quipped.
But what this panel lacked, unfortunately, was an in-depth discussion of where the rest of the world fits in. It was brought up momentarily at the end, when Davis asserted that we commoners are becoming much like the stars we celebrate, essentially paparazzi-ing ourselves via incessant social media sharing. At this point, Grenier chimed in with what was perhaps the most poignant statement of the night: “We're less distracted by celebrities these days because we're so distracted by ourselves.”