Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Paparazzi flood Park City streets

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 26 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Self-proclaimed 'pap' Eric Jimenez of Edj Photo, at right, scans the crowd during the Sundance Film Festival.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

PARK CITY — Half a dozen paparazzi are elbowing for room on the top of Village at The Lift. They're camped outside a gifting suite, a for-sure stop for any celebrity.

Reality TV star Stephanie Pratt and comedic actor Pauly Shore come up the stairs, ready to score their freebies.

It's at this moment that the adrenaline rush kicks into high-gear, the "paps" snapping pictures of the two as they exchange numbers and pose with fans.

"Stephanie! Where's your sister-in-law? What do you think of all of Heidi's plastic surgery?" yells one who asked to remain nameless, his camera zoomed in on her face. He's hoping to capture the 23-year-old "Hills" starlet's reaction to fellow cast member Heidi Montag's recent 10 surgeries.

Pratt turns and bolts.

If you've ever watched TMZ or read Perez Hilton, it's a familiar scene. Dozens of paparazzi crowd the entrance to clubs, Hollywood eateries and celebrities' homes to make cash off images of the rich and famous.

They've become a polarizing figure in our celebrity-obsessed culture. The general public loves to view images of celebrities, but most would agree the stalker-like tactics to capture a star sunbathing in his or her backyard or picking up the kids from school are exploitive.

Dozens of paparazzi flood to Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival, where one can easily catch a glimpse of a celeb stumbling out of a bar or entering a club like Harry O's.

This year the paparazzi are inside the theaters of Sundance, as well. Two films are exploring the celebrity obsession.

Both documentaries, the films show the generation gap between two paparazzo. "Smash His Camera" details the career of the pioneer of celebrity photojournalism, Ron Galella, 78, who arguably invented the paparazzi career. "Teenage Paparazzo" follows Austin Visschedyk, a 13-year-old entrenched in the Hollywood world and, with his mother's lax parenting, photographs stars around town by way of skateboard, scooter or taxi.

The films offer a dramatically different image of the two characters. There's Galella, a senior citizen who now limps behind other photographers at press events and decries "My picture taking is done" because "there are no more iconic stars left." Visschedyk, on the other hand, hangs outside clubs in the a.m. hours (keeping in touch with mom by phone) to score an average of $500 to $1,000 per shot and reveals he's having "the time of my life."

Galella is notorious for having his jaw broken by Marlon Brando and being sued twice by Jackie Onassis, whose plea to "Smash his camera!" became the title of the film.

Three decades later, the clash between a paparazzo's First Amendment rights and a celebrity's right to privacy is still being debated.

In the film, Galella (who another photographer refers to as a "legal stalker") says celebrities often want to be photographed.

"They're not any different than Kleenex, Dial soap or anything else," he says.

"Teenage Paparazzo" affirms that. One of the most photographed stars, Paris Hilton, says in the film: "They're annoying, but at the same time, in Hollywood, you need them."

The modern-day film takes a deeper look into the controversial profession, more than "Smash His Camera," with director (and "Entourage" actor) Adrian Grenier interviewing numerous paparazzi and even going undercover as one himself.

Jake Halpern, author of "Fame Junkies," provides his insight and says humans are hardwired to watch powerful people. He cites a Duke University study that found male primates will go hungry to stare at pictures of dominant monkeys.

"We have these parasocial relationships with people we think we know on the TV or the movies," he says. Hence, many refer to celebrities by their first name and feel a part of their lives.

Galella says that he considered Jackie his girlfriend. Even Visschedyk admits he'd like to become famous and is courting a reality television show.

It's fitting that during the closing credits to the latter film the Lady Gaga song "Paparazzi" is played, which contains the chorus, "I'm your biggest fan, I'll follow you until you love me, paparazzi."

Meanwhile, from the paparazzi on Park City's Main Street, a ruthless pap has yet to be seen. Sure, they yell and jockey for space. But so do the throngs of fans hoping to shoot Orlando Bloom with their cell phone or score Kristen Stewart's autograph.

It could be that the celebrities are hard to miss in small Park City, or everyone's getting the same shot, so there's no real chance for an "exclusive."

Mark Hedengren has just shot video of Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones. He's waiting to see who's next to be dropped off on Main Street.

The Provo resident, who works for French news agency Sipa, hardly seems like the stereotypical paparazzi. He is polite, charming and a serious photographer.

"Most of the actors like to get their photo taken. It's like a mini photo shoot," Hedengren says. "Covering celebrities is a lot like covering religion. People idolize celebrities like religion. It's a lifestyle like religion."

e-mail: astowell@desnews.com

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