Portraits and Paps

If one thing is certain it is that the inquest verdict on the deaths of Di and Dodi will not end the conspiracy theories surrounding what actually happened leading up to their deaths in Paris in the early morning of 31st August 1997.

Its also clear that the blame attached to the paparazzi that “the speed and manner of driving of the following vehicles“, in the views of the majority of nine jurors “caused or contributed to” the crash will do nothing to improve the image of photography.

Of course it is the very same public that deplore the way the paps acted on that evening who also fuel the apparently insatiable appetite for the celebrity snaps that more or less fill our popular press, spawning a ridiculous number of magazines and web sites and are becoming more and more common in what we used to think of as the serious press.

Blaming the paps is an irrelevance. They are the driven not the drivers in this situation. I don’t know why other jurors dissented from the majority verdict, but I hope it might be because they take a similar view to me.

Assuming you aren’t royalty but just an ‘ordinary’ celebrity and want to avoid the attention of paps, it isn’t too hard. Try – as at least one person has done – buying a number of sets of the same fairly normal clothing – and having same look each time you go out. Make yourself reasonably available to press photographers, dress and behave sensibly in public. Be polite to photographers and don’t assault them or employ others to do so, but don’t be too cooperative. Look at them and give them a nice smile (which they will soon come to hate) and just shake your head when they ask you to do silly things.

But of course most of those taking part in the circus thrive on it; celebs get the photographers they deserve, which is perhaps why the pages I flick through rapidly on the free sheets or see people sitting beside me on the bus or in the tube reading are full of such ordinary and banal images of them.

Last week I went to the National Portrait Gallery in London, largely to see a show of pictures of brilliant 18th century women, the original ‘Bluestockings‘. There were some good portraits, though of course none were photographs (and the set of modern photographs connected to the show failed to interest me) as well as some very interesting books and other artefacts, but while there I did wander around the other rooms of pictures. The work on show changes from time to time, but there are usually a few good photographic portraits on show as well as rather more paintings that hold my attention.

The show ‘Born 1947 – Camera Press at 60‘, which closes on 20 April 2008, celebrates 60 years of the UK’s largest independent photographic agency with specially commissioned portraits of celebreties who are also 60, along with some of founder Tom Blau‘s informal protraits from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Blau (1912-1984), was a Jewish Hungarian reporter and photographer who was born and brough up in Berlin, leaving Nazi Germany in 1935 to come to London. Here he worked as a freelance photo researcher and in 1938 was employed to help set up an international photo library, Pictorial Press, was owned by three Hollywood producers. In 1947, after having become a British citizen, Blau put up £2000 to found his own agency, Camera Press. His grand-daughter, Emma Blau, (b1975,) currently has one picture on display in Room 39 of the NPG, although my favourite image in that room is Angus McBean’s 1950 print of Audrey Hepburn.

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