By Sue Zeidler1 hour, 41 minutes ago
They're cursed at, knocked down and have objects thrown at them. They're loathed by their subjects. Yet the demand for the photos they shoot is stronger than ever.
Welcome to the world of the paparazzi: the guerrilla-like photographers who will go to any length -- from renting a helicopter to dressing up like a llama -- to get the "money shot" like those rare, candid pictures of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt frolicking on a Kenya beach that fed on the public's obsession with the stars and sold for an estimated $500,000.
The paparazzi know Cameron Diaz flips the bird, Brad Pitt will use a hamburger for defense and Ben Affleck will engage in a high-speed car chase to evade these unwanted lensmen.
They are not the credentialed photographers who shoot obediently from arm's length at premiers and the Oscars.
"Their job requires more cunning, creativity, and sheer nerve than a red carpet ever demanded," said Peter Howe, whose book "Paparazzi," published last month, delves into the photo journalists' world and their complex relationship with their subjects and the public.
Veteran paparazzi are quick to note that while many actors outwardly scorn them, they also know they cannot achieve or sustain fame without paparazzi photos in the press.
"I don't think they'd ever admit to saying they like paparazzi, but there are certainly those who accept us as part of their business," said Frank Griffin, a veteran paparazzi who now runs Bauer-Griffin agency with partner Randy Bauer.
These days, paparazzi photos appear in even the most mainstream of publications as more news organizations than ever have sought to capitalize on the public's seemingly insatiable interest in celebrity.
In his book, Howe said the O.J. Simpson trial was pivotal because the proceedings were covered live on TV and showcased what was "under the rock of a celebrity's life."
Indeed, a celebrity may first learn he or she is off the A-list from the paparazzi.
"The paparazzi have amazing antenna. They know before a celebrity does when a career is cooling. It may not be much of a consolation, but stars know their careers are on track when their lives are made hell by photographers," Howe said.
A thick skin is a prerequisite to be a paparazzo -- a term coined by Italian director Federico Fellini in his 1960 film "La Dolce Vita."
"We don't have to worry about who we piss off. Everyone's already pissed at us," Griffin says on his Web site.
Howe, former picture editor for the New York Times Magazine and director of photography for LIFE magazine, interviewed various paparazzi, like Phil Ramey, Ron Galella and Griffin for the book which came out just as the Los Angeles police announced a probe into whether the city's paparazzi engage in criminal conspiracy to land photos of stars in distress.
The probe was announced in June shortly after a photographer crashed his car into Lindsay Lohan's Mercedes, but authorities said it was launched months earlier in response to a growing number of cases in which photographers band together to provoke celebrities.
Many fear another tragedy like the Paris car accident that killed Princess Diana in 1997.
"Certainly, the most indefensible part is the car chases. There are more photographers than just a few years ago and it's become more and more dangerous," said Howe, who describes tactics like "follows," which are when paparazzi chase celebrities and surround their cars in traffic.
'STUPID PAPS' AND 'GRUNTS'
Los Angeles, with its sunny skies and pretty scenery, has become a mecca for paparazzi, whose ranks have swelled from a handful to over 100 in the past decade.
Some paparazzi will live in their cars for days, staking out celebrity homes and scanning sidewalks for famous faces.
But Howe said the elite paparazzi do not engage in the chases. "The stupid paps, the grunts of the profession, would try to run a star off the road or cause collisions," he said. "The smarter ones, who make more money, try to avoid being seen at all costs. The big money comes when celebrities don't even know they're being photographed."
He provides many colorful anecdotes, telling how the National Enquirer made up llama costumes for paparazzi to shoot the 1988 wedding of Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan in Vermont wedding near a field of the grazing animals. Fox foiled the photographers by closing off his tent.
Top-earning paparazzo rely on their sources to tip them. Griffin estimates he spends between $50,000 and $100,000 annually to get information, such as tips on the whereabouts of stars and other facts about their lives.
His partner earned about $250,000 for the tell-tale image of Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe walking together in Santa Monica as the two were rumored to be having a fling. Griffin said that photo "cost" them about $13,000 in payments for tips.