Richard Burton and Liz Taylor kissing in Ischia, June 1962, taken by Marcello Geppetti (1933-1998). MGMC & Solares Fondazione delle Arti
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Paparazzi: artists or intruders? A new exhibition celebrates the original snappers' works

The Estorick Collection is displaying the original paparazzi shots of Sixties stars in Rome as a collection of historic and artistic snaps. But were the paparazzi really artists, and can we imagine today’s paps having such an impact?

They get lunged at, insulted, physically harassed and chased. They make their money from the superficial trappings of show business – white smiles, symmetrical features, pricey revelry, designer offspring – and operate in the streets, corridors and VIP areas of downtown celebrity hubs the world over. Stars and paparazzi have a lot in common.

Although reported altercations between cameramen and celebrities can inspire very little sympathy for either party – due mainly to the tasteless intrusion of the snapper and general absurdity of the subject – the struggle of the paparazzo to capture their prized image could one day end up as art.

Franco Nero assaulting Rino Barillari at the Trevi Fountain, 1965, taken by Marcello Geppetti (1933-1998). MGMC & Solares Fondazione delle Arti


In a new exhibition at London’s Estorick Collection – a gallery of modern Italian art – the original paparazzi images are on display. ‘The Years of La Dolce Vita’ presents pictures of both Italian and Hollywood celebrities working on films and living a rather dolce vita themselves in Sixties Rome among other gilded Italian locations.

The collection mainly comprises intimate shots of actors by Marcello Geppetti – one of history’s first paparazzi. Director Federico Fellini’s film of 1960, La Dolce Vita, coined the word ‘paparazzo’ for the surname of its fictional news cameraman, the origin of which is a dialect word for the incessant buzzing of an insect.

From Ingrid Bergman warily pacing down a Rome street with her two daughters to Brigitte Bardot in polka dot trousers looking over her shoulder away from dozens of photographers, and Audrey Hepburn pensively leaning on a bakery counter to one of the most famous candid shots – Richard Burton kissing Elizabeth Taylor on a boat roof in Ischia (they were both married at the time) – almost every glamorous visitor to Sixties Italy is captured by Geppetti’s tenacious lens.

Displayed in a gallery, these photos – even the ones of enraged actors assaulting cameramen (there’s an intriguing one of Swedish actor Anita Ekberg in stockinged feet attacking photographers in her driveway with a bow and arrow in hand) – transform from fleeting flashes for tomorrow’s paper to works of art.

Culturally compelling and with a story to tell, Geppetti and his clicking contemporaries’ images are pieces of history – and their uniquely sensational yet naive tone, in black and white, make them appear more as iconic snapshots of a lost age than invasions into people’s personal space. And they were both. For every tasteless picture – one of the original ‘upskirt’ shots must have been Geppetti’s 1963 photo of French actor Michèle Mercier being lifted up having fainted – there are others evoking an extraordinary era of decadence and glamour.

Raquel Welch and Marcello Mastroianni at Cinecitta on the set of the movie “Shoot Loud, Louder, I do not understand ...”, 1966, taken by Marcello Geppetti (1933-1998). MGMC & Solares Fondazione delle Arti


Although a magnificent shot of actor and Mr Universe 1955 Mike Hargitay lifting his fellow actor and wife Jayne Mansfield into a cab after leaving a bar – the latter carrying her shoes and wearing an ornate floor-length evening dress – isn’t exactly translated in the images of Justin Bieber loping around in ill-fitting trackies we see today, the papping principle hasn’t changed since the practice began. As they did then, subjects now both court the cameras and deplore them. Paparazzi still aim for the most intimate shots they can find, valuing exclusivity and level of fame above all other factors. Shots of the celebrity in a couple, or with their children, remain the most lucrative.

But there’s a difference today, which could make exclusive paparazzi shots even more valuable in the future. First, with smartphones, everyone’s a photographer; the general public can often undermine a pap hard at work by being/lurking in the right place at the right time. Second, celebrities often do the paparazzi’s work for them (but for free) by publicising intimate shots of their personal lives on Instagram. But will the paparazzi who survive these modern threats eventually emerge as artists?

Here’s what Clément Chéroux, the curator of another exhibition, ‘Paparazzi! Photographers, stars and artists’, in France, had to say on the subject:

The paparazzi make history as well as witness it. There are certain events that have become important because they have been photographed... In the public consciousness, the paparazzo is seen as a loser, someone who is not very normal, who will sell his grandmother for money. He has no ethics, he's a bit dirty. He is the antihero, whereas the war photographer is the hero: a figure who risks his life to bring back images from the front. In reality, things are a lot more complex.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Shami Chakrabarti’s fall from grace: how a liberal hero lost her reputation

Once, it was trendy to say you liked the former director of Liberty. No longer.

It might be hard to remember now, but there was a time when it was trendy to like Shami Chakrabarti. In the mid-2000s, amid the Iraq War backlash and the furore over identity cards, speaking well of the barrister and head of the human rights campaign group Liberty was a handy way of displaying liberal credentials. She was everywhere: Question Time, Desert Island Discs, Have I Got News For You. A young indie band from Worcester called the Dastards was so keen on her that it even wrote a song about her. It included the lyric: “I turn on my TV/The only one I want to see/Is Shami Chakrabarti.”

The daughter of Bengali immigrants, Chakrabarti was born and brought up in the outer-London borough of Harrow, where she attended a comprehensive school before studying law at the London School of Economics. Her background was a great strength of her campaigning, and during the most authoritarian years of New Labour government she burnished her reputation.

Fast-forward to 13 September 2016, when Chakrabarti made her House of Lords debut as a Labour peer. Baroness Chakrabarti of Kennington wore a sombre expression and a rope of pearls looped round her throat beneath her ermine robe. It was hard to recognise the civil liberties campaigner who was once called “an anarchist in a barrister’s wig” by Loaded magazine.

Yet Chakrabarti has also been cast in another role that is far less desirable than a seat in the Lords: that of a hypocrite. On 29 April this year, Jeremy Corbyn announced that Chakrabarti would chair an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. The inquiry was prompted by the suspensions of Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West, and Ken Livingstone, for making offensive remarks that were condemned as anti-Semitic. On 16 May Chakrabarti announced that she was joining Labour to gain members’ “trust and confidence”. She said that she would still run the inquiry “without fear or favour”.

The Chakrabarti inquiry delivered its findings on 30 June at a press conference in Westminster. The atmosphere was febrile – there were verbal clashes between the activists and journalists present, and the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was reduced to tears. The report stated that Labour “is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism” but that there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”. It listed examples of “hateful language” and called on party members to “resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons”. Many Labour supporters were surprised that the report’s 20 recommendations did not include lifetime bans for members found to have shown anti-Semitic behaviour.

Then, on 4 August, it was revealed that Chakrabarti was the sole Labour appointment to the House of Lords in David Cameron’s resignation honours. Both Chakrabarti and Corbyn have denied that the peerage was discussed during the anti-Semitism inquiry. But critics suggested that her acceptance undermined the report and its independence.

In particular, it attracted criticism from members of the UK’s Jewish community. Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “This ‘whitewash for peerages’ is a scandal that surely raises serious questions about the integrity of Ms Chakrabarti, her inquiry and the Labour leadership.” A home affairs select committee report into anti-Semitism in the UK has since found that there were grave failings in the report for Labour.

Two further incidents contributed to the decline in Chakrabarti’s reputation: her arrival on Corbyn’s front bench as shadow attorney general and the revelation that her son attends the selective Dulwich College, which costs almost £19,000 a year in fees for day pupils (£39,000 for full boarders). She said that she “absolutely” supports Labour’s opposition to grammar schools but defended her choice to pay for selective education.

Chakrabarti told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “I live in a nice big house and eat nice food, and my neighbours are homeless and go to food banks. Does that make me a hypocrite, or does it make me someone who is trying to do best, not just for my own family, but for other people’s families, too?”

This was the end for many of those who had respected Chakrabarti – the whisper of hypocrisy became a roar. As the Times columnist Carol Midgley wrote: “You can’t with a straight face champion equality while choosing privilege for yourself.”

Hypocrisy is a charge that has dogged the left for decades (both Diane Abbott and Harriet Harman have fallen foul of the selective school problem). The trouble with having principles, it is said, is that you have to live up to them. Unlike the right, the left prizes purity in its politicians, as Jeremy Corbyn’s squeaky-clean political image shows. Shami Chakrabarti started the year with a campaigning reputation to rival that of the Labour leader, but her poor decisions have all but destroyed her. It’s difficult to recall a time when a liberal icon has fallen so far, so fast. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood