Papparrazzi + Rabid Fans = Hilary Duff Near Riot

Celebrity shooting isn’t one of my favourite photographic pursuits. For the most part it’s a great big slice of ‘much ado about nothing’.

The long wait to get a decent vantage point, the predictable revising of the ETA past the scheduled arrival time, the frenzied fan reaction to the stars, a couple minutes (sometimes a couple seconds) of trying to corral the celebrity’s fractured attention. Then the star bugs out, you’re left with two hours of your life you’ll never get back, and all you have to show for it are some very basic flash-on-camera shots notable mostly for the recognition quotient of their subject. I believe they call this a star’s Q Score.

So Friday night it’s Hilary Duff I'm shooting, who has a very big Q rating and is appearing at a fundraising dinner for one of her favourite charities – children’s nutritional charity Blessings in a Backpack – at Ultra, an establishment previously known as the Ultra Supper Club, but probably more recognizable to a certain vintage of Toronto party-goers as the former Bamboo Club.

I’m there to shoot her arrival on the red carpet - which is actually looking more like a concrete sidewalk carpet – but never mind, less likelihood of her tripping.

Everything seems promising as we count down to the arrival. There are several dozen fans, but the only other media are a reporter and cameraperson from Fashion Television, a CTV videographer, and another photographer from Canada Press.

I’m positioned right beside the FTV crew, as I know celebrities are attracted first and foremost to television cameras at these things.

We’re right in front, dead centre.
The reporter – Mary Kitchen – agrees to position herself so she’s not blocking my shot while the interview is going on (thank-you Mary), and the camera person is okay with my flash going off while he’s filming (thank-you friendly camera guy who’s name I forgot to get).

I’m starting to think this might just be one of those shoots where you really do get enough time for some interaction with the celeb, as opposed to making due with whatever you’re handed.

And then I turn around, and over by the street where she will be pulling up to the curb, I see the Paparazzi.

How to recognise the paparazzi at occasions like this?

Well they’re the scowling, surly bunch who look just like a street gang, only uniformly outfitted with matching white Canon 70-200mm lenses. With accreditation, they are not anymore likely to misbehave than your average celebrity photographer (and that’s not setting the bar all that high), but without accreditation they are capable of some real nastiness in pursuit of a sellable image. At the film festival I’ve seen some unpleasantness from this crowd.

Worse, I don’t recognise any of them, meaning they aren’t the usual suspects I meet on the media trail, but the international paparazzi – our Toronto breed are, true to the cliché of our national reputation, slightly more polite for the most part than the international version.

Not good.

And as Hilary’s stretch SUV pulls up, the crowd reacts, girls start screaming, the flashes are firing as she makes her way to the media area, but as soon as she gets inside the media area everything goes to whole different level of crazy.

The paparazzi launch themselves at the crowd like a flying wedge. Fans swarm towards where she is standing. People are shoved right into me with a violent force, others are grabbing my arms, and trying to elbow in front.

The impact of this swarming towards the celebrity is such that if the videographer hadn’t been beside me I would have been knocked right over. Fortunately, he also has a couple guys pushing against him, which shoves him into me, and the two oppossing forces almost cancel out! It's like the videographer and I have become a self-supporting structure in the middle of chaos.

There is one guy pushing so hard against me to get in front that he is literally grunting with the exertion. I put my forearm across his chest and push back on him, but that meant that for most of these photos I had to do them one-handed.

As I’m shooting Hilary from about two feet away during her interview with FTV, covered with people fighting to get to her, someone holds out a video camera right in front of my camera completely blocking my view.

I get my arm free and gently move his arm upwards, gently because there is no time during these brief media ops to provoke fights and the situation is already tense enough, but he takes exception to this and starts tapping the end of my lens with the video camera to ruin my shot. I grab his arm and more forcefully position it above my camera – in other words, I’m showing him his lane so his camera isn’t in my way, but where he can still get his shot – and once again he starts harrassing me by tapping the end of my lens.

We’re so squashed together I can’t even figure out who this jerk is because it’s impossible to turn around. It’s an arm coming from over my shoulder is all I know. Just as I’m about to grab it again and show him his other option by forcing it down so he gets a perfect view of the concrete sidewalk, he goes away.

Only to be replaced by a rabid fan who is literally trying to climb right up my back. He keeps waving a pen in front of me, which is getting in my shots, yelling, along with everyone else, to get her attention. I'm being buffeted from all directions, trying to shoot one-handed while fending people off.

Under the guise of going for a low shot of Hilary I hunker down, which has the effect of hip checking this guy off me, but pressure is really building to an impossible degree right at this particular spot as Hilary has been doing the interview for at least a minute and it's become ground zero for all this neurotic energy.

Kids are getting shoved around, everyone is packed together so tight it’s becoming hard to breathe, I seem to be surrounded by people who are pushing with all their strength to get to Hilary by charging right through anyone who gets in their way. The reporter beside me has a panicked look in her eyes and wants to get out, but no one can move.

Fashion Television Reporter Mary Kitchen caught in the surge

The FTV cameraman has a digital point and shoot out and is trying to do a quick shot of the reporter and Hilary together.

I remember they planned on doing this photo for their web site at the end of the interview, so I tell the crazed fan with the pen I'm doing a couple more shots then he can have my spot. The cameraman is having trouble with the point and shoot, I hose Mary and Hilary at 5 fps with the E3, turn to the cameraman and tell him it's okay I got it for them, then step back and let this deluded fan have his moment.
This happens just as Hilary Duff moves on down the line, and I barely manage to step out of the way as a surge of people follows her. Pushing my way out of the crowd, I head back to where my camera bag is. It started out at my feet but ended up about ten feet away, complete with a couple thousand dollars worth of gear inside.

Meeting up with the FTV camera guy we’re both laughing nervously at how crazy the last couple minutes were, the reporter seems to have recovered her composure and likes the shot of her interviewing Hilary for their web site. We talk about meeting up again at Fashion Week, exchange email addresses, and five minutes later I’m sitting in my car still wondering what the hell just went on here.

This kind of virulent fan obsessiveness is really ugly up close, and if I had to do this every day it wouldn’t even really be like you were doing photography, or participating in any kind of communicative medium. In these situations your camera just becomes a conduit for perpetuating the fame of already over-exposed stars at an endless series of essentially meaningless photo ops.
Even your normal standard for accomplishment - getting a great shot - doesn't really apply. Hilary Duff is an exceptionally beautiful young woman, a celebrity at her level is photographed practically every day, and I'm sure great shots of her are actually quite common.

We pepper our normal Arts and Entertainment coverage with the occasional celeb photo because stars visiting the city is a part of Toronto's character. Just like I shoot sports once in a while - auto racing, tennis, baseball, soccer - because they're part of the city as well.
But generally we stick to accredited shoots and try to stay away from red carpet free-for-alls.

As many times as I'm required to do celeb shoots, I make no effort to keep up on the fame game. No tabloids, no US or People magazines. Never watch ET or all the other imitators.

In fact, I was shooting Taylor Swift recently and I asked the publicist if this kid was some kind of a big deal. She looked at me like I'd just fallen out of a tree and patiently explained that Taylor Swift is the highest grossing recording artist on the planet right now.
Who knew! Apparently only all the rest of the population was in on that little factoid. We had a good laugh over that.
And I'm not alone in this nonchalance towards the celebrity business. A lot of the guys covering it are the same.

Last week I had to explain to a wire service photographer who K'Naan was.
At the MuchMusic Video Awards red carpet it gets so bad they have a guy who's sole responsibility is to write down the names of each approaching 'star' in black marker on a large artist's pad so we can ID them later.
You shoot the name before each new batch of freshly minted stars comes in front of the camera so you won't get mixed up when sorting through the results.
And even he gets confused and doesn't know who people are sometimes!

From the inside it's a far cry from breathless hype of 'the stars were out and the crowd was buzzing!' hundreds of dedicated web sites, TV programs, and print journals spew out on a daily basis.

Really, there is nothing duller than shooting a red carpet event, except for the occasional excitement when a near riot breaks out.

I have a couple days off before I’m scheduled to do this kind of shoot again.

Next up, Kat from the TV show L.A. Ink, but we’re not anticipating anywhere near this kind of circus for her shoot.

Technical Details: All photos done with the Olympus E3 w/ Digital Zuiko 12-60mm 2.8 lens, additional fill light with the Olympus FL50 flash, 3600K gel taped to the flash head to match incandescent ambient lighting. All photos at @ 250 ISO.

All photos copyright All rights reserved. No use without written permission allowed.


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