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Wide Angle at the Beach

The Origins of the Paparazzi and the Cannes Film Festival
Vanessa R. Schwartz
Cet article est une traduction de :
Grand angle sur la plage [fr]


This essay examines the emergence of paparazzi photography at the Cannes Film Festival in the 1950s and 1960s. It argues that the festival offered unparalleled and spontaneous access to celebrities that eventually became the stock and trade of this type of photojournalism. It also makes an explicit connection between the photographic style and the emergence of the New Wave in film. If, once, glamour photography developed inside the highly contrived world of the studios, which had sustained its artificiality, the New Wave’s ‘natural style’ matched and was reinforced by the paparazzi culture of Cannes.

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1This image of Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood entering the Palais des Festivals at Cannes during the 1962 event epitomizes many of the signal characteristics of the form of celebrity photography that, during the initial ascendance of the festival, became known as ‘paparazzi’ photography. Though the stars here may be dressed in a way that suggests they were camera-ready, the photo taken catches them in a seemingly informal moment as they come out of the revolving door and enter the Palais. Details, such as Warren Beatty’s raised foot or the odd protrusion under Natalie Wood’s silk wrap that any studio photographer, had the image been posed, would have seen and adjusted by having her lower her hand, attest to the status of the photo as ‘taken’ rather than ‘given’ – an axiom of all photojournalistic practice that was brought to an extreme form in paparazzi photo­graphy. The presence of a photographer taking a picture (obviously not this picture) and the third party whose eyes are trained on the photographer point the viewer to the journalist’s act of taking photos – his labor, his derring-do, his assertiveness to capture the images that we want of celebrities – ones that are taken rather than given, spontaneous rather than posed. He will even dress in formal attire to get them.

2It is such photographic practice and its emergence as ‘paparazzi photo­graphy’ at the Cannes Film Festival that will be examined here. Yet the festival will serve as more than simply an attractive backdrop. The ‘taken celebrity image in motion’ photographed at Cannes connects the history of photography to the history of film in ways that have gone unexamined in the history of photojournalism – which, for the most part, has concentrated, rather naturally, on still photography, with moving pictures often regarded in opposition. Telejournalism, for example, has been understood as replacing the great print weeklies, such as Life, and telejournalism’s rise is thought to have brought an important era in the history of photojournalism to an end. Instead, this essay suggests an interdependent relation between the still and the moving image in the early 1960s. Paparazzi photos are not simply related to the movies because they are pictures of movie stars.

3More specifically, the Cannes Film Festival served as a vital location for the reshaping of post-war celebrity culture where the division between life and art became increasingly thin and photojournalism played a critical role in that dissolution. This dissolution in turn became part of the driving aesthetic forces behind one of the major film movements of the period, also launched by the festival: the New Wave. In particular, by looking at Brigitte Bardot, the most photographed woman in the world in the period under investigation, whose own career was launched at Cannes, we can unpack the complex relation between a new kind of photojournalism and novel practices in cinematic culture. While paparazzi photography’s style of photography in motion served to mark its spontaneity and its status as taken rather than given, there is a ‘cinematic’ subtext to seeing still images of movie stars in motion and I suggest that the New Wave be re-imagined as ‘photojournalism’s cinema.’

Contextualizing Paparazzi Photography

  • 1 Peter Howe, Paparazzi (New York: Workman, 2005), 17.

4Our contemporary meaning of paparazzi photography is well summarized by photo editor Peter Howe in his recent book on the subject. For Howe, it is an activity: ‘it’s taking photographs you shouldn’t take in places you shouldn’t be.’1 His definition is less about the photos themselves and more about the conditions under which they are taken with the act of the transgression of privacy as fundamental. Paparazzi photography’s history has, for the most part, been read backwards from our current vantage point of a world filled with long telephoto lenses and photographers willing and able to sit on endless stakeouts because of the enormous pay for the single celebrity image. Spontaneity, rather than transgression, equally characterized 1960s paparazzi photography. The emphasis on the transgression of privacy was not as primary as spontaneity, but the candid and furtive photo goes back to the definition of photojournalism and suggests that, as much as photojournalism has disavowed paparazzi photography as a degraded practice, both spontaneity and the ‘taken’ image are very much a part of the tradition of photojournalism.

5Most histories of photojournalism point to the German Erich Salomon as among the first photojournalists, for two reasons. He used the term itself to describe his work and because he notoriously surreptitiously photographed diplomats with a hidden Ermanox camera (which did not require a flash) in the 1920s. Yet his own description of what it meant to be a photojournalist is not all that different from what we think of when we imagine paparazzi photographers except that the latter are always described in denigrating terms. Nowhere in his definition, however, does Salomon emphasize secrecy:

  • 2 Gisèle Freund, Photography and Society (Boston: David R. Godine, 1980), 122.

6‘The work of a press photographer who aspires to be more than just a craftsman is a continuous struggle for his image. As the hunter is a captive of his passion to pursue his game, so the photographer is obsessed by the unique photograph that he wants to obtain. It is a continual battle against prejudices resulting from photographers who still work with flashes, against the administration, the employees, the police, the security guards, against poor lighting and the enormous problems in taking photographs of people in motion … Then there is the fight against time, for every newspaper has its deadline that must be met. Above all, a photojournalist must have infinite patience, must never become flustered. He must be on top of all events and know when and where they take place. If necessary, he must use all sorts of tricks, even if they do not always work.’2

7The language of continuous battle, the difficulty of apprehending a subject in motion, and the infinite patience are equally applied to the paparazzi as much as to photojournalists in general. In a sense, then, the paparazzi have come to stand in for the negative aspects of photojournalism’s heroic side.

  • 3 On the eternal present, see Siegfried Kracauer, ‘Photography’ in The Mass Ornament, ed. Thomas Y. L (...)

8Like paparazzi photos, the images taken by photojournalists generally tenaciously attest to their eyewitness status. They are enabled by and flaunt the mobility of the photographer (and so we have many photos of Robert Capa at the front lines in war or his famous Spanish Civil War photo that proves the photographer’s proximity to battle); Weegee was known to have a specially equipped car with police radio, and the paparazzi had their mopeds. The images aggressively underscore the act of capturing a moment as much as they ‘capture’ the subject represented and are thus concretizations of what Siegfried Kracauer pondered in regard to photography as a form of the ‘eternal present.’3

  • 4 Time, April 14, 1961.
  • 5 Colin Westerbrook and Joel Meyerowitz, Bystander: A History of Street Photography (Boston, New York (...)
  • 6 On such material, see Anthony W. Lee and Richard Meyer, Weegee and Naked City (Berkeley: University (...)

9If paparazzi photography appears to be some extreme form of photojournalism, there are two other photographic traditions to consider for longer-term contextualization within the history of photography, before we return to the birth of the paparazzi. With street photography it shares the attempt to capture a candid view of images in the public (paparazzi photography used to be of images exclusively taken in the public before telephoto lenses facilitated trespass via lens without physical trespass). Paparazzi were initially so associated with the street that Time magazine described them, right after the premier of La Dolce Vita, as ‘streetwalkers.’4 The formal qualities of paparazzi photos embraced the values articulated by Henri Cartier-Bresson, at once street photographer and photojournalist, who described his work in Images à la Sauvette as images that were ‘perfect in their imperfection.’5 The other tradition is the taste for scandal and sensation perpetuated by the photo tabloids and image-driven crime-oriented weeklies of the twentieth century, which also help contextualize the taste for the paparazzi genre, even if paparazzi images initially tended to be published in mainstream media outlets.6

  • 7 Gloria Satta, ‘The Buzz about Paparazzi: Marcello Mastroianni Remembers Working with Federico Felli (...)

10The history of the term is said to be derived from the photojournalist in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita named ‘Paparazzo’ – a name Fellini claims to have simply made up but which according to Ennio Flaiano, who worked on the screenplay, he and Fellini took from a character in George Gissing’s novel By the Ionian Sea. In either case, the photographer was based in part on the photographer Tazio Secchiaroli, who served as a consultant for the film and eventually became Fellini’s set photographer.7 Despite paparazzi photography’s Italian name, I would like to return to the Cannes Film Festival, rather than investigate the Via Veneto in Rome, another mythic location for the origins of paparazzi journalism. Aside from the existence of many more such photographers working the festival in one two-week period than on the Via Veneto in Rome in an entire year, Fellini’s character has a close connection to the festival. La Dolce Vita won the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 1960. But Fellini, who had worked as a journalist, had by the time he made the film, become a festival regular for many years – his Le Notti di Cabiria won a special award in 1957. La Dolce Vita surely is describing the photo-frenzy on the Via Veneto in Rome, the film’s literal setting. But, I would suggest that Fellini became familiar with the habits of photojournalists at Cannes and that the film was much appreciated at the festival not only for its ‘quality’ but also because it struck a familiar chord among the festival crowd who, literally, recognized aspects of the festival culture within the film.

Photography Makes the Festival

11The sheer volume and scale of the Cannes press operation actually made it a fundamental event in the development of post-war photojournalistic practice and product, especially in the domain of celebrity and ‘red carpet’ photography, which was not distinguished from the term ‘paparazzi’ at the time. No other event of the period came close to rivaling the festival for its short-term concentration of film celebrities from around the world available to be photographed at once.

  • 8 Festival International du Film, Conseil d’Administration, 1033, 1966, Bibliothèque de Film, Paris. (...)

12The press covered the many events fabricated under the festival’s direction. Screening films, they understood, could not establish the festival as a worldwide stage for international film culture but press coverage of events could. For the exclusive ears of the festival’s organizers, its director Robert Favre Le Bret admitted that extra-cinematic events were essential as he looked back over more than fifteen years of festivals in 1966: ‘If the Festival is recognized worldwide, it is much less due to film reviews … than to all the extra-cinematic events. Whether we like it or not, this is what gives the Cannes meeting its appealing shape and provides an alluring atmosphere that pleases all the foreign guests and provides their memories with lively and brilliant images.’8

  • 9 Herrick Library, Cocteau as cited in British Film Institute (BFI) ‘Newsletter,’ June 1953, no. 223, (...)

13The press did not simply ‘cover’ the festival. Its presence also helped to construct the festival’s ceremonies. Photographers’ needs created the current version of the festival’s great ritual – la montée des marches (the staircase climb). In the old Palace, the staircase stood at the center of the interior hall, not unlike the stairs at the Opéra in Paris. Journalists fought each other to get a photo of the stars as they entered the Palais, which led Jean Cocteau to utter his famous regret: ‘c’est un festival d’escalier.’9

14The live crowd outside missed the ascent of the staircase inside entirely and its design made it difficult for photographers to shoot entries and even more difficult for television cameras to film. In fact, most of the images of the evening arrivals were taken not on the steps but as stars entered, as in the Warren Beatty/Natalie Wood image whose isolation at the revolving door masks the chaotic press melee of the entry to the festival hall.

  • 10 This ritual suggests the title for a recent sociological study of the festival: Aux marches du pala (...)

15As the festival grew in size, pressure for better photographic access to the stairs increased. The new Palais, which opened in 1983, allowed the show, complete with a huge red-carpeted outdoor staircase, to take place on the sidewalk – better for onlookers and still and television cameras alike.10

  • 11 Toni Howard, ‘Whindig of the Movie Queens,’ Saturday Evening Post, May 18, 1956.
  • 12 Frances Knecht, ‘Real Festival on Cannes Staircase,’ Globe and Mail, May 16, 1957. Fonds Festival I (...)

16The festival, as an event, seemed to revolve around the presence of photographers. As an American journalist observed, ‘Since photographers are the elite of the Festival and are welcomed everywhere, a good ploy is to borrow a camera and, looking hassled and irritable, push through.’11 Stars were a key lure for all these photographers. They were officially displayed: paraded in convertibles on the Croisette, presented at press conferences, and most ritualistically, appeared in formal attire for the evening screening, the apogee of the day’s events. As one Canadian newspaper explained, ‘compared to all the distractions that Cannes offers during this international event, the highlight of the day is the arrival of the stars for the evening performance.’12 The evening screening showed stars ‘going to the movies’ as well as stars accompanying their own films. These screenings offered formal and ritualistic star appearances. Photographers were also required to dress in formal attire.

17Cannes’ rich iconography included the juxtaposition of red carpet photography alongside the even more spontaneous-seeming life of the stars at the beach, which often had the advantage of featuring them in bathing suits, as in this image of Kirk Douglas and a very young Brigitte Bardot .

18Another such pleasure can be located in the subtle irony of finding the great intellectual of the day, Jean-Paul Sartre, relaxing at the beach in proximity to movie stars such as Douglas and Bardot. The informality of the images suggests and plays with the idea of the unauthorized image while the proximity of the photographer suggests they were most likely hardly unauthorized at all.

19If Hollywood glamour functioned to present a sophisticated star in the closed and controlled studio environment, the Cannes images helped construct a new picture of stardom, because in the years leading up to the emergence of the term ‘paparazzi,’ stars and filmmakers strolled freely on the promenade de la Croisette, really did go to the beach, and photographers were able easily to catch them off-guard.

Paparazzi Photos as Photos of Photographers

20Photographers were not simply present everywhere at the Cannes festival but their presence became part of the photographic record. In this way, as it emerged, paparazzi photography can be said to have consisted as much of photographs of paparazzi photographers as by paparazzi photographers, as in the photograph of Maria Schell in which we see only her back in favor of those who are photographing her .

  • 13 On Lee Miller, see Becky Conekin, ‘Lee Miller’s WWII Reporting for British Vogue,’ Special Issue: ‘ (...)

21Photojournalists had already begun to develop personae that were often expressed by their own appearance in their photographic work, whether by having their picture taken at the front in fatigues (Capa) or strategically out of them (Lee Miller in Adolf Hitler’s bathtub) or in ironic self-portrait (Weegee).13 Paparazzi images, by contrast, are more often marked by the crush of groups of photographers that surround the single celebrity or couple, as in the image of Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay at Cannes in 1958. With that many cameras present, it is likely that someone must have been able to shoot an image that did not include images of people shooting images, suggesting that these are not accidental but explicit representations of the festival as a photo frenzy and marks the arrival of the paparazzi – a term as meaningful in its plural form as its singular.

  • 14 Allan Sekula, ‘Paparazzo Notes’ in Photography Against the Grain. Essays and Photo Works, 1973–1983(...)

22In an article about 1970s photographer Ron Galella and his combative relationship with Jackie Onassis, Allan Sekula treats the paparazzi with a healthy dose of disdain and skepticism but applauds one thing. Of Galella, he says: ‘his one virtue as an artist lies in the fact that what is hidden in most photographer’s work, the transaction that brought the image into the world, is painfully obvious in his.’14 Putting aside Sekula’s derogatory tone, I would underscore it is not just the transaction of the labor of the photograph, but the laborer himself who is often part of the picture.

Of Starlets and Stars

23Whether in an evening event at the Palais or on the beach, the images speak to the saturation of the public space by photographers as if festival life existed to be photographed. But the photographers, I would suggest, are also standing in for the viewer – the viewer of the photograph who is, at the same time, a film viewer. Cannes’ paparazzi photography is literally connected to the global audience of film viewers that the festival both represented and also helped further cultivate.

24The Cannes Film Festival influenced filmmaking worldwide by holding up a mirror to reflect the changes in filmmaking practices around the world in the films they screened and by fostering those changes. They gathered filmmakers in one place and the staged event of the festival itself became highly mediated by photojournalists who then reshaped the public’s relationship to celebrity. And so, real life and photographed and filmed life started to blur. The line between life, photographs, and film did not blur in some form of post-modern hyper-reality before the fact. Rather, the circulation of star iconography that was more ‘photojournalistic’ than it was the contrived Hollywood glamour images, in the form of the spontaneous paparazzi images at Cannes, coincided with and fueled greater demand for continuity between stars and their roles. This may well help explain why the most photographed woman in the world at the time when the paparazzi emerged was none other than Brigitte Bardot.

  • 15 Variety, May 13, 1959.
  • 16 Life, no. 52, June 15, 1962.

25Starlet photos had always been part of the festival’s iconography. The beach setting offered a seemingly legitimate reason for the photographing of women and men in a state of relative undress. Fairly lax censorship laws and a long tradition of nudes and erotica in France encouraged such risqué photos. Variety noted about the festival, ‘What’s “news” to a photographer? Girls, Girls, Girls.’15 Starlet photos also provided a critical commentary on motion pictures themselves. As a Life magazine headlined punned, ‘Lady, do you want to get in Pictures? You CAN at Cannes.’16 If you couldn’t get into ‘pictures’ as in motion pictures, there was always the world of paparazzi photos. The starlet hunt reinforced still photography’s importance to film, while reinscribing a social and cultural hierarchy between the two forms.

  • 17 Letter to Raoul Lévy from Favre Le Bret, April 8, 1958. Fonds Festival International du Film de Can (...)

26Starlet photographers promised to turn the beach at Cannes into an international ‘Schwab’s’ – the drugstore on Hollywood Boulevard said to have launched a thousand careers. And careers were made, none more important than that of Brigitte Bardot, who first went to Cannes in 1953 as a nineteen year old starlet and whose relation to the festival would begin a career that would make her the most famous woman of the decade that followed. As festival director Favre Le Bret wrote to Raoul Lévy, the producer of Et Dieu créa la femme (And God Created Woman), as if it were self-evident, ‘the Festival served as Mlle. Bardot’s launching pad from the start of her career.’17

Bardot and the Link of Photography and Film

  • 18 UniFrance Film Newsletter, no. 20 (October 1952): 22.

27If Cannes played a crucial role in the career of Brigitte Bardot, she, in turn, also played a crucial role in promoting the festival. At her first festival she had just completed her first starring role that year in Willy Rozier’s film Manina, whose English title is sometimes The Girl in the Bikini. The film’s publicity materials underscored that the character lived a ‘free and almost wild life.’ This quality would become a key element of Bardot’s style – happily repeated in the beach photos at the festival.18 The crossover to the real beach in Cannes was not a big leap from the theme of Bardot’s first film. It is never easy to explain why some are elevated from the ranks of starlets to become stars, let alone definitively explain the sort of phenomenal fame of someone like Brigitte Bardot. Yet, to consider her celebrity without attaching it to the photojournalism of the Cannes Film Festival misses a major element in both her meteoric rise and in the influence of the festival on international film culture more generally.

  • 19 François Truffaut, Arts, no. 619 (May 1957): 15–21.

28Bardot and her then-husband Roger Vadim mastered the Cannes-style photo by making even arranged photo sessions seem spontaneous. This sort of spontaneity then became synonymous with the ‘acting’ career of Bardot, but its quality and cultivation may well have been first developed for the still images of the shutterbugs on the beach at Cannes. Her early champions such as François Truffaut, writing when he was a film critic, noted, ‘she is founding a new movement in the cinema.’19 Yet rather than see this new style as emerging merely as a rejection of the staginess of the traditional French cinema as Truffaut thought at the time, Vadim and Bardot first cultivated this cinematic style in relation to the photojournalism of Cannes.

29The clever management of photojournalists at Cannes helped Bardot go from starlet to star. Bardot had a knack for just showing up on the beach when the photographers were loitering, looking for people to photograph. Like many of these early paparazzi images, the fact that this image is shot at a distance − at least more than in a classical portrait − and in the beach context − and not in a studio − is not a hindrance to the photo but part of the proof of its spontaneity, an image ‘perfect in its imperfection’ as Cartier-Bresson described. Onlookers with camera at the ready and the photographer crouching in the right back corner repeat the motif of the necessary appearance in early paparazzi images of the photographer in the picture itself.

  • 20 UniFrance Film Newsletter, April 1955.
  • 21 François Nourissier, Brigitte Bardot (Torino: Grasset, 1960), 24.

30In a newsletter of the French film export association (UniFrance Film), Vadim promoted Bardot as ‘the young girl of today. I know her well … When she acts, she invents nothing. She drives her own car in Paris with more confidence than a cab driver.’20 These qualities were to become the great clichés of Bardot’s persona on and off the screen: her youth, contemporariness, mobility, confidence, and freedom. François Nourissier, who wrote an early celebrity portrait of her, noted that she was the opposite of the great old movies stars such as Norma Desmond (from Sunset Boulevard): ‘She’s someone you’d meet. Instead of the glorious old car, a Simca sports car … the oh-so-modern and hip woman.’21 The difference between the girl in life and the girl in the pictures was incidental. She played herself, as Vadim remarked, and even played characters named Brigitte in comedies such as Une Parisienne. With no difference between Bardot in life and Bardot on the screen, how could one photograph the ‘private’ Brigitte Bardot?

  • 22 UniFrance Film Newsletter, April–May, 1958: 144.

31By 1956, Bardot was already listed in one magazine as the top star in Germany, even before the release of Et Dieu Créa la Femme. By spring 1958, the French film office in New York confirmed that Bardot was a household word in the United States; the headline of their newsletter in April-May 1958 was ‘Brigitte Bardot: The Birth of a Star.’ The newsletter explained that ‘in the history of French cinema there has certainly never been a personality of comparable export value … She has, in fact, become as much a star of the newspapers as of films, since she is already a household word to people who have not yet had the opportunity to see her on a theatre screen.’22 UniFrance film claimed she owed her popularity to the photographic press.

32Her press fame aided her film career. Her celebrity became so tied to press photos that this phenomenon also began to appear in her films. The New Wave films in which she starred, directed by Louis Malle and Jean-Luc Godard, self-consciously analyzed Bardot’s photographic press image and the conflation of the person with the iconography. Louis Malle’s Vie Privée (1961–2) is a thinly veiled treatment of Bardot’s overwhelming renown and its stultifying trap, complete with the death by flashbulb of the film’s protagonist, Jill, played by Bardot..

  • 23 For more on Le Mépris, see Vanessa Schwartz, It’s So French! (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, (...)

33Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (1963) is as much about Bardot and filmmaking as it is about the Alberto Moravia novel on which it is based.23 Godard’s explicit interest in Bardot’s photographic celebrity is also evidenced in two short films about the Bardot phenomenon and her relation to the press: Le Parti des Choses (Things as They Are/The Nature of Things) and Paparazzi made by Jacques Rozier on the set of Le Mépris.

34These small films function to expose New Wave filmmaking’s philosophy as akin to that of photojournalism; the second film especially zeroes in on the vexed relationship between the paparazzi and the most photographed woman in the world. It expounds on the difference between authorized and unauthorized picture taking, depicting the photographers as opportunistic hustlers and Bardot as their victim. Yet at the same time it also offers its viewers secret, behind-the-scenes images of Bardot on the set of Le Mépris and thus indulges the same audience desire to see Bardot, unposed and spontaneous. Although the film was obviously shot with the permission of Godard and Bardot, it is not always visually presented as such since Rozier’s camera is often placed at a distance in order to take in the complexity of the location shooting and the difficult circumstances of paparazzi practice. He shows the paparazzi hiding in the brush above the location in contrast to Bardot’s official set photographer, Jicky Dussart, at work photographing her while simultaneously filming Godard filming the feature.

  • 24 From Paparrazi, directed by Jacques Rozier, bonus materials, Le Mépris, 1963, DVD.

35The film explains why Bardot has become such an important target of the menacing and harassing photographers. In what appears to be a mock newsreel voiceover played within the film, we are informed, ‘the entire world photographs the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and the whole world photographs Brigitte Bardot.’ The voiceover continues: ‘Why this camera mania? It is not just BB the actress that fascinates the crowds, but BB in real life.’24 It continues, ‘BB works as well in a newspaper headline as on a movie marquee, and for some years now, Brigitte Bardot has played nonstop the role of – BB.’ The rest of the movie narrates difficult circumstances on the set during the film shoot between the paparazzi and Bardot. The film provides an anatomy of the paparazzo’s vital equipment: a 300mm telephoto lens with 3.5 aperture (which facilitated taking pictures from as far as 150 meters away), a Vespa, a pair of legs, endurance, a flash, and their secret weapons: patience and stubbornness over a sequence that introduces a cast of determined Italian photographers, who are labeled: paparazzi. Only two years after the Fellini film, the term had become common enough to use but not so common that a documentary about the subject provided genuine interest. The film ends with a lone photographer on a roof, staking out his prey with a telephoto lens and Bardot, beautiful and slightly complicit, smiling into Rozier’s camera, but the image is frozen and repeated several times, as if taken by a photographer’s still camera rather than by a motion picture camera.

  • 25 Herrick Library, clippings files, ‘Brigitte Bardot,’ studio press release, 1965.

36Art and life had come together for Bardot the star, as much as for her audience. In an interview with Pete Hamill a few years later, she said: ‘I am Brigitte Bardot. And that Brigitte Bardot, the one I see in the magazines and the newspapers, the one up on the movie screen, that Brigitte Bardot will never be sixty – Don’t you agree?’25 BB retired entirely from the world of entertainment in 1973, at the age of thirty-nine. She stopped making movies and moved permanently to her estate, La Madrague, in St. Tropez, having perhaps been truly the first person to be really famous for being famous. As such, Bardot’s career also suggests an important and overlooked link between photojournalism and film. Film did not simply provide stars for paparazzi photographers to shoot. The demythologizing of the star and the conflation of BB the person with BB the actress would make life itself the best celebrity show in town, while the Cannes Film Festival provided a staging of this phenomenon year in and year out on unprecedented scale. This yearly belch of image-making stoked the need for such photos year-round when they were truly harder to get and which thus developed into a more explicitly ‘candid camera’ experience, in which celebrities were often provoked into unflattering encounters with the photographers that were then reproduced, sparking the development of a more aggressive form of paparazzi photography.

  • 26 See Stéphane Mirkine, Stars Mirkine (Paris: Flammarion, 2007); Edward Quinn, Riviera Cocktail (Zuri (...)

37Although certain photographers such as Léo Mirkine and Edward Quinn worked the festival every year, their estates have only recently published collections of their photos from the south of France with a heavy representation of their festival work. It was not until later in the 1970s and 1980s, with such photographers as Ron Galella, Daniel Angeli, and playboy Jean Pigozzi, that ‘the paparazzo’ as the singular artist-photographer really emerged and there is, as of yet, no art historical or scholarly treatment of their photography. These publications are strictly coffee table books designed to exploit the famous people pictured within their covers, again.26 It is fair to say that paparazzi photographers remain among the best-paid and least well-respected photographers at work today. While commercial fashion photographers, such as Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, and Helmut Newton have already been elevated to auteur status and Weegee was even enshrined in the Museum of Modern Art in his own day, however high or low he was, the same cannot be said for a single paparazzo photographer. Nor perhaps is ‘auteur’ treatment necessarily the most appropriate way to study their contributions, as I suggest in this article.

38It is no mere historical coincidence of timing that the Cannes Film Festival took root just as something actually labeled and called ‘paparazzi’ photography emerged. Cannes not only helped bring the stars down to earth through photojournalistic practice but that practice also contributed to changes in film style with the rise of the New Wave. If glamour photography developed inside the highly contrived world of the studios and supported their artificiality, the New Wave’s ‘natural style’ fit the paparazzi culture of Cannes. When Les 400 Coups won an award at Cannes in 1959, a key turning point in the movement’s history, the celebration was marked by the appropriate triumphant entourage of eager photographers seeking to capture the moment, lifting high the boy-star Jean-Pierre Léaud and leaving a photograph that catches them all in the act..

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1 Peter Howe, Paparazzi (New York: Workman, 2005), 17.

2 Gisèle Freund, Photography and Society (Boston: David R. Godine, 1980), 122.

3 On the eternal present, see Siegfried Kracauer, ‘Photography’ in The Mass Ornament, ed. Thomas Y. Levin, 47–63 (Cambridge: Harvard, 1995).

4 Time, April 14, 1961.

5 Colin Westerbrook and Joel Meyerowitz, Bystander: A History of Street Photography (Boston, New York: Little, Brown, 1994), 156 for Cartier-Bresson quote.

6 On such material, see Anthony W. Lee and Richard Meyer, Weegee and Naked City (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); and Will Straw, Cyanide and Sin: Visualizing Crime in 50s America (New York: PPP Editions, 2006). This material emerged from the illustrated press of the nineteenth century yet there is virtually no discussion of the connection between these two traditions. For an exception, see Thierry Gervais, ‘L’Illustration photographique. Naissance du spectacle de l’information, 1843–1914,’ (PhD thesis, EHESS, 2007). He is not particularly interested in scandal or the ‘faits divers,’ however.

7 Gloria Satta, ‘The Buzz about Paparazzi: Marcello Mastroianni Remembers Working with Federico Fellini and Tazio Secchiaroli, The First Paparazzo’ Aperture, no. 150 (Winter 1998): 77–78. For the reference to Flaiano’s explanation see Julien Neutres, ‘Le cinéma fait-il l’histoire? Le cas de La Dolce Vita,’ Vingtième siècle, revue d’histoire, no. 83 (July–September 2004): 62.

8 Festival International du Film, Conseil d’Administration, 1033, 1966, Bibliothèque de Film, Paris. All references to original internal Festival numbering.

9 Herrick Library, Cocteau as cited in British Film Institute (BFI) ‘Newsletter,’ June 1953, no. 223, v. 20.

10 This ritual suggests the title for a recent sociological study of the festival: Aux marches du palais: Le Festival de Cannes sous le regard des sciences sociales, under the direction of Emmanuel Ethis (Paris: La Documentation Française, 2001). There is an essay about the staircase ceremony in this volume by Pascal Lardellier that explores the ritual but does not sufficiently account for the role photographers played in the design of the Palais.

11 Toni Howard, ‘Whindig of the Movie Queens,’ Saturday Evening Post, May 18, 1956.

12 Frances Knecht, ‘Real Festival on Cannes Staircase,’ Globe and Mail, May 16, 1957. Fonds Festival International du Film de Cannes, Bibliothèque de Film, Paris, Folder 943.

13 On Lee Miller, see Becky Conekin, ‘Lee Miller’s WWII Reporting for British Vogue,’ Special Issue: ‘Fashioning Society’ Journal for the Study of British Cultures 14, no. 2: 151–62; Mark Haworth-Booth, Lee Miller, trans. from English by Jean-François Allain (Paris: Hazan, 2008); for Weegee, see Anthony W. Lee and Richard Meyer, Weegee and Naked City (note 6).

14 Allan Sekula, ‘Paparazzo Notes’ in Photography Against the Grain. Essays and Photo Works, 1973–1983, 23–31 (Press of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1984): 31.

15 Variety, May 13, 1959.

16 Life, no. 52, June 15, 1962.

17 Letter to Raoul Lévy from Favre Le Bret, April 8, 1958. Fonds Festival International du Film de Cannes, Bibliothèque de Film, Paris, Folder 954.

18 UniFrance Film Newsletter, no. 20 (October 1952): 22.

19 François Truffaut, Arts, no. 619 (May 1957): 15–21.

20 UniFrance Film Newsletter, April 1955.

21 François Nourissier, Brigitte Bardot (Torino: Grasset, 1960), 24.

22 UniFrance Film Newsletter, April–May, 1958: 144.

23 For more on Le Mépris, see Vanessa Schwartz, It’s So French! (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007): 151–53.

24 From Paparrazi, directed by Jacques Rozier, bonus materials, Le Mépris, 1963, DVD.

25 Herrick Library, clippings files, ‘Brigitte Bardot,’ studio press release, 1965.

26 See Stéphane Mirkine, Stars Mirkine (Paris: Flammarion, 2007); Edward Quinn, Riviera Cocktail (Zurich, teNeues Edition, 2007 [this may be a reprint of a 1980 German edition of a collection]). There was an interesting exhibition at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin in Summer 2008 called Pigozzi and the Paparazzi that presented 350 paparazzi images but that failed to make a strong argument about it as a form. Galella, of course, became famous for his court battles with Jacqueline Onassis more than for his images, although he then later exploited his own fame to sell his pictures. See, for example, Ron Galella, Off-Guard: A Paparazzo Look at the Beautiful People (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976); and Ron Galella and Steven Bluttal, The Photographs of Ron Galella (New York: Greybull Press, 2002).

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Vanessa R. Schwartz, « Wide Angle at the Beach »Études photographiques [En ligne], 26 | novembre 2010, mis en ligne le 28 mai 2014, consulté le 21 février 2024. URL :

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Vanessa R. Schwartz

Vanessa R. Schwartz is professor of history, art history, and film at the University of Southern California. She has published widely in the history of visual culture, including Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in fin-de-siècle Paris (University of California Press, 1998) and It’s So French! Hollywood, Paris and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2007). She co-edited The Nineteenth Century Visual Culture Reader (Routledge, 2000) and is currently working on the visual culture of the ‘Jet Age’ and a co-edited volume, with Jason Hill, on the history of photojournalism.

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