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The Power Game: Paparazzi Photography in the Sunday Mirror (2001-2002)
Katarzyna Marcinkowska


Popular culture always is part of power relations; it always bears traces of the constant struggle between domination and subordination, between power and various forms of resistance to it or evasions of it, between military strategy and guerrilla tactics (Fiske 1995: 19)


On August 31, 1997 many people in distant parts of the world learned the same new word - paparazzi. It was the paparazzi with their greedy cameras who were blamed for the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, as her driver’s attempt to escape the hordes of photographers chasing their car ended in a crash. The paparazzi, it was said, were even taking pictures of the dying Di and Dodi.

All the reports on the death of Diana condemned the paparazzi as devoid-of-any-morals photographers who would do anything to obtain pictures that would hit the headlines. Therefore, it seemed then that this unfortunate accident would help put a stop to the practices of paparazzi. Yet, according to the Sunday Times of March 31, 2002, paparazzi photographers say that after the lull that followed the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the market for snatched images is back and booming”.[i]

             Being a staple diet of the tabloid press, paparazzi photography is still a source of non-stop controversy in Britain. Newspaper titles such as the Sun, the Mirror, the People and their Sunday equivalents - the News of the World, the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People respectively, as well magazines such as Hello! and OK!, regularly invade the privacy of many famous people by obtaining   and publishing photographs taken without their consent. If the pictures are very intrusive, what follows is the celebrity’s outrage or even a lawsuit, all accompanied by a series of deploring articles in broadsheets.

“There is no possible public interest in publishing pictures of people naked on their honeymoon” wrote the Sunday Times in one such article quoting the opinion of a lawyer specialising in media entertainment.[ii] It seems, though, that the public does hold an immense interest, while the nature of the appeal of pictures showing celebrities with no clothes on appears to be a very basic one. Cases of such outrageous intrusions into privacy get most publicity in the mass media and, as a result, paparazzi photography is often associated with voyeurism and criticised as a debased exercise catering for the voyeuristic gaze of the reader. Yet, in fact, paparazzi pictures that show celebrities stark naked constitute an extreme minority of this type of photograph.

In 56 issues of the Sunday Mirror published within the period of 13 months (from June 3, 2001 to June 23, 2002) out of 111 articles which included paparazzi photographs, only two contained pictures of well-known women tanning topless, while in the majority the celebrities were fully clad. Only in 11.6% were the photographs of celebrities on a beach or in/at a swimming pool - the venues allowing for some body exposure by wearing bathing suits. However, about 75% of the pictures seemed to have been taken in the street

Despite the lack of sexual context of many a paparazzi photograph, the circulation of the Sunday Mirror, the tabloid newspaper which has been chosen for the present analysis, runs into millions of copies and is much greater than that of the broadsheets which do not publish this type of picture. The Sunday Mirror has an average circulation of 1,927,000 copies[iii] and an estimated readership of 5,719,000, i.e. 12.3% of those in the UK aged 15 and over read it.[iv] Both the Sunday Mirror and its weekday companion, the Daily Mirror, routinely publish paparazzi photographs.

In fact, most of the material published in the Sunday Mirror, as well as in other downmarket tabloids, is designed to be looked at. Big-sized pictures are accompanied by huge headlines with texts usually comprising not more than 400 words. The majority of such articles are essentially ‘picture-led stories’ - stories which could not appear without the photographs - many of which are those taken by the paparazzi.

Thus, paparazzi photographs are not merely printed for the sake of illustration, and constitute an important and integral element of the Sunday Mirror. Moreover, conspicuous a phenomenon as the paparazzi intrusions are, an analysis of the photographs and texts accompanying them, as well as an examination of the quality newspaper articles which criticise paparazzi intrusions, can help to explain the immense popularity of the tabloids that publish such photographs. This is exemplified by the Sunday Mirror, and provides us with important insights concerning British culture and society.

Following John Fiske’s (1995) assertion that the role of the critic-analyst is “to trace the play of power in the social formation, a power game within which all texts are implicated” (45), this article will particularly focus on analysing the ways paparazzi photographs, and both the readers and the celebrities portrayed in these pictures, are inscribed in the play of power in British society. In order to do this, the article will give detailed consideration to paparazzi intrusions in relation to the private life of both celebrities and newspaper readers, analysing the social and political significance of such photography. Since celebrities are characterised by and associated with their images, the article will examine the images of celebrities produced by paparazzi photographs and their relation to the mainstream notion of the celebrity as an icon of beauty, and, as a consequence, it will investigate the function these images perform in the capitalist system in Britain.

The analytical tools used in this investigation are essentially eclectic. Along with close textual readings of the visual, the verbal texts which appear together with pictures will also be analysed, for as Roland Barthes (1994) argues:


(...) the structure of the photograph is not an isolated structure; it is in communication with at least one other structure, namely the text - title, caption or article - accompanying every press photograph (p 16)


Thus, the study of paparazzi photography will also be a study of the language of the various texts accompanying the photographs as well as an examination of the discourse used by the broadsheets to talk about tabloid intrusions, paparazzi and celebrities.

As the purpose of this paper is to integrate empirical study with theoretical understanding, a number of critical concepts will be employed to account for the appeal and social meaning of paparazzi photography. References will be made to some major, yet general, theoretical works on photography, as literature on paparazzi photography is practically non-existent. Therefore, theories and concepts developed by Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault and Antonio Gramsci will be appropriated. Only such a conflation of various methodologies and theories can yield a comprehensive interpretation of the problems posed by paparazzi photography and, primarily, can help trace and adequately describe the play of power within it.


Paparazzi vs. posed photographs

The name ‘paparazzo’ meaning an intrusive photographer was first used in 1960 in Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita. Since then, it has been deployed to designate both the impertinent photographer who takes pictures of celebrities at official occasions, as well as the ‘stalker’ who, armed with a bazooka-like long-lens camera, follows every move of a famous person trying to take shots of them in a private or intimate situation.

 Hiding in scrub, climbing trees or scaling fences and trespassing - paparazzi photographers are not afraid to go to great lengths to obtain pictures of well-known celebrities. Some hire boats to photograph celebrities on a beach from sea level. One American freelance even chartered a helicopter in order to take aerial pictures of a star’s wedding.[v]

The extreme conditions in which paparazzi photographs are produced have their impact on the pictures’ quality and result in their peculiar look. Taken with a long-lens from a hiding place, paparazzi photographs are often of low technical quality, mostly blurry or grainy, either full-length or close-up pictures of various celebrities. However, their most distinctive feature is constituted by the fact that the famous people portrayed in them did not pose since they were completely unaware that a picture was being taken. As a result, paparazzi photographs are usually in sharp contrast to the official posed photographs of celebrities.

By publishing, in fact, anything that the paparazzo has managed to catch on film the Sunday Mirror indiscriminately reveals the private life of celebrities. In this respect, the Sunday Mirror, as well as other tabloids, seems to have incorporated Avishai Margalit’s view into its code of practice. Margalit (2002) argues that the very idea of privacy assumes that our public self is just a façade, the public persona just a pretension, and only our private self is our true self.

In order to mark the contrast between the private self and the public appearance of the celebrity, paparazzi photographs are conventionally juxtaposed with official images of celebrities or with the images of the characters they play in, for example, soap operas. Therefore, many articles containing huge shots of celebrities taken by a paparazzo, provide also a small-sized posed portrait for comparison. Sometimes, however, the very discrepancy between paparazzi pictures and ‘official’ photographs might be the main or even sole subject of an article.

On December 30, 2001 the Sunday Mirror published pictures of the American actress Cameron Diaz (Figure 1).[vi] The close-up pictures of Diaz show her without make-up, she has red spots on her face and does not even look very fresh. One of the pictures is matched with a similarly framed glamour picture of her, and thus, highlights the difference between the two. The juxtaposition between the representations of Diaz wearing make-up and without gives a striking effect. The sharp contrast between the real (private) self of Diaz and Hollywood version of her is the sole concern of this article. These photographs perfectly illustrate the newspaper’s attempt to, literally, tear down, the public façade of the celebrity and expose her real self.



Figure 1 ‘Diaz unmasked’


The role of the officially issued images of celebrities placed next to their paparazzi photographs is also to help furnish evidence that in real life the celebrity looks different. Moreover, official pictures of celebrities appear to provide a contrast to the photographs taken by paparazzi each time the celebrity altered her/his looks, put on weight or changed a fashion style. In this respect, even a small-sized official portrait is enough to render the transformation easily noticeable. For example, in “Don’t be so silly, Billie” next to the pictures of the singer Billie Piper wearing baggy trousers and an oversized shirt, there was a smaller picture of her in tight-fitting clothes.[vii]

Yet, occasionally, even if the paparazzi pictures were meant to present the transformation of the celebrity, the article provided no official photographs for contrast. Such is the case with the article entitled “Liam Galla-ga-ga” showing the frontman of the rock band Oasis Liam Gallagher bottle feeding his son (Figure 2). The newspaper might have decided that Gallagher’s official portrait is redundant here since his official image is well known. Still, if not an official photograph, it is the text that makes it explicitly clear that the pictures show a change in the star’s image: “these pictures of domestic bliss show that Liam Gallagher has finally given up his wildman of rock title”.[viii]



Figure 2 ‘Liam Galla-ga-ga

Apart from describing various transformations of celebrities, the newspaper also revealed cases when the stars tried to hide their well-known ‘façade’ in order to stay unnoticed in the street. On May 12, 2002 the Sunday Mirror printed a big close-up photo of the actor Brad Pitt in which he not only appeared wearing sunglasses and a hat, but a beard as well. A small-sized picture accompanied by the caption “Beardless Brad” was provided not only to contrast his new look with the old one, but to help us recognise Brad Pitt’s features behind the beard in the big photograph.[ix]


Employed by the Sunday Mirror, this strategy of ‘unmasking’ celebrities by contrasting paparazzi pictures with their official images is indicative of the newspaper’s self-assumed role of exposing the pretence in public persons’ lives and revealing the truth. This truth effect results from the very fact that the celebrities were unaware that they were being photographed. A picture taken off-guard is understood as an authentic representation of the celebrity, while a posed photograph, which shows the celebrity in a more favourable light, is treated as false. As Roland Barthes writes in his Camera Lucida (2000):

(...) once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of ‘posing’, I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image (p 10)


The point made here by Barthes is not applicable to paparazzi photographs, and this is exactly what constitutes the very essence of this type of photography. Celebrities portrayed in paparazzi photographs do not know that they are being photographed, so they do not feel observed by the lens, hence they cannot constitute themselves in the process of ‘posing’ and instantaneously make another body for themselves. Fully aware of this dichotomy between posed and ‘spontaneous’ photographs, the Sunday Mirror uses both to highlight the authenticity of the latter.


The evidence

In aiming at revealing the authentic looks or behaviour of celebrities, paparazzi photographs purport to be more truthful than other types of photography. Consequently, in the newspaper context the role of the paparazzi photograph is that of evidence. Such an approach to is also reflected in the linguistic structure of the texts which accompany the pictures. The results of a lexical analysis of these articles indicate that paparazzi pictures are used in the Sunday Mirror as evidence to support various theses concerning celebrity’s lives. The use of phrases like “our pictures prove” or “our pictures show” was commonplace.  For example:

·         “Our pictures prove Michelle’s love for Jonathan has grown”.[x]

·         “And as our pictures show they have clearly fallen in love (...)”[xi]

·         “(...) these pictures clearly show how smitten Tina is with her new man”.[xii]


       Hence, the photograph also gives the reader a certainty that the things which are represented in it have really happened. In this sense, the photograph and the text not only perfectly complement each other but, as John Hartley (1995: 31) observed, the picture validates the story with which it is simultaneously printed. The linguistic structure of the story authenticated by a photograph can then also serve to provide evidence itself. The following excerpts illustrate this point:

·         “They look totally in love,” said one holidaymaker. “They are always kissing and cuddling or mucking around with Jonathan trying to pull down her bikini”.[xiii]

·         One onlooker said: “They couldn’t have looked more relaxed. Hardly anyone seemed to notice Kate and she looked happy to be blending in. They were gossiping like most sisters do”.[xiv]

·         He lives alone and one neighbour said: “He is very quiet and polite and keeps himself to himself. He always smiles and says hello. He seems to work long hours”. [xv] (on a celebrity’s partner)

·         A guest at the Birmingham hotel, who saw their exit, said: “Kylie looked radiant and flashed us a smile as we watched. Her boyfriend seemed dishevelled and tired - but he also looked like the cat that had got the cream”.[xvi]


This type of eyewitness report appeared in a majority of the articles. The statements included in quotation marks introduced as: “an onlooker said” or “one onlooker said” appeared most often. The   information: “one holidaymaker said” or “a fellow holidaymaker said”, and “a guest said” or “a fellow guest said” when the celebrity was pictured on a hotel premises, was also frequent. Others include: “a passer-by said” or “a shopper passing by said”;  “fellow drinkers say”, when the celebrity was photographed outside a pub; “one neighbour said” or simply “a source said” and, a little more precisely,  “a source at the restaurant said.” All these people - onlookers, holidaymakers, fellow guests - described what they have seen (e.g. he looked, she looked), but sometimes also made certain judgements (e.g. he seemed).

 Such eyewitness reports, due to their inherently testimony-like character, remind one of court or police investigative procedures. The very inclusion of eyewitness comments is typical for crime reporting and is often encountered in the documents used in court or by the police. Such discursive mechanisms when used in a newspaper, put the reader in the position of an all powerful inspector whose only role is to examine the evidence - paparazzi photographs or testimonies of eyewitnesses - gathered by the editors.

However, the onlookers’ statements are not the only element characteristic of police discourse that can be observed in the texts placed next to paparazzi photographs. Sometimes, whole fragments of articles look almost as if they were taken from a police report. To illustrate this point, I quote below “Caught you!” an article on the love ‘re-match’ of singer Kylie Minogue and her boyfriend James Gooding. The article, which accompanies two paparazzi pictures (one showing Minogue, the other Gooding, entering the same car) opens with a sentence informing us that “Kylie went to enormous lengths to conceal her reunion with ex-boyfriend James” (emphasis mine) only to juxtapose it further on with a precise account of their leaving a hotel together:

(...) First a silver Ford Galaxy people carrier in which she had arrived at the hotel was placed close to the staff entrance where James was smuggled in on Friday.

         Next, a sleek Mercedes limousine in which James was whisked from his home in London was positioned alongside and both rear doors left ajar.

         Around 30 minutes later at 4:14:21, Kylie emerged from the hotel into bright sunshine grinning and wearing a white T-shirt, jeans and with her blonde hair tied into a ponytail.

         She climbed into the back of the limo and waited. Then, at 4:16:28, a smiling James joined her, wearing exactly the same clothes he had arrived in the previous afternoon, with the exception of his woolly hat. [xvii]


The striking element in this fragment is the exact timing of Minogue’s and Gooding’s activities. Used typically in crime reports, e.g. in the reconstructions of events, such timing, and especially its exactness, must be of little interest to newspaper readers. However it serves to emphasise the accuracy of the report, which thus suggests that, despite all Minogue’s efforts, nothing can possibly be concealed from the newspapers and/or escape its attention.


Figure 3 ‘Soph, let’s spend the afternoon together

Similarly, the reunion of Mick Jagger and Sophie Dahl and their meeting at Sophie’s grandmother’s home was also exposed by the newspaper. The article “Soph, let’s spend the afternoon together” included two paparazzi photographs, one of Jagger and the other of Dahl, outside the above-mentioned house (Figure 3).[xviii] The pictures themselves do not seem to be really interesting or informative, but they serve to validate the precise account of their meeting provided by the text. The exact hours are also given, but this time they are combined with the photographs thus both the text and pictures become even more powerful. What is more, the article also employs an interesting strategy aimed at convincing the readers that the man whose back we see in the first picture is indeed Mick Jagger. The Sunday Mirror juxtaposed this problematic photograph with a small portrait of Jagger, so the readers could see for themselves that the haircut of the man photographed by a paparazzo was identical to and perfectly matched the one of the singer. Without this strategic move, the whole article would give the impression of being based on spurious grounds.


Figure 4 ‘Jerry’s sea of love’


Such a variety of methods used by the Sunday Mirror to authenticate the photographs transform ordinary paparazzi shots into truthful evidence of celebrities’ activities. The nature of this evidence allows for a close scrutiny of all the details fixed in the picture - the details which the eye in real life could not consciously examine. The text on the pictures of Jerry Hall in the article “Jerry’s sea of love” and “the new man in her life”, Tim Attias, directs the reader’s attention to one such detail: “(...) it seems they have already exchanged love tokens as they were each wearing matching silver pennants around their necks[xix] (see Figure 4). This fragment shows that the photographic evidence is closely examined in search for any clues yielding information on celebrities’ private life. Thus, just like criminals followed by detectives, celebrities are subjected to permanent and thorough surveillance by the papers.



The Panopticon

Constantly watched by anonymous observers, celebrities cannot protect themselves from an unwanted gaze, in this respect, they are highly visible, but they cannot see those who look at them. Paparazzi photographers usually take pictures from a hiding place, and then their images published, for example, in the Sunday Mirror are seen by millions of unnamed readers. Celebrities can never see those who admire or are put off by their pictures. Their loss of privacy stems from the inability to protect themselves from this unwanted, anonymous, asymmetrical gaze. At the same time, it is also this asymmetrical gaze that produces symbolic control of celebrities by the readers. The idea of paparazzi photography as ‘asymmetrical surveillance’ evokes certain associations with the concept of the Panopticon. Originally a model of an ideal prison devised by the British philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham in 1791, the Panopticon was later mediated through the work of Michel Foucault “Discipline and Punish” (1998) which showed that the principles were widely used in the exercise of social control. These principles seem also to operate in paparazzi photography.

According to Bentham’s plan for a Panopticon penitentiary, prisoners who were put in individual cells were permanently subjected to the gaze of the guard- inspectors who, on the other hand, they could not see. Because there was no place in the cell where they could hide and be private and since they could not know whether they were being observed at any moment or not, they had to stay obedient. This model prison, which in fact has never been built, was called the Panopticon - a Greek-based neologism meaning all-seeing place. Creating in the inmate a conviction that he is constantly visible to the guards, the Panopticon uses this uncertainty as a means of subordination. Here, as Foucault has put it, visibility is a trap. At the same time, he has stressed that the panoptic principle has become one of the major tools for exercising power and maintaining social order (Foucault 1998; Lyon 1994: 57-80).

Celebrities observed by paparazzi hiding in bushes fit this model very well. Yet, as far as paparazzi photographs within the newspaper context are concerned, this helps further to explicate the position of the reader. This reader, who always remains invisible, holds panoptic power and occupies the position of the guard-inspector who examines the evidence gathered by newspaper editors.

Such empowerment of the reader must also contribute to the appeal and the pleasure generated by paparazzi photography. Not only are the values of privacy challenged but the usual power relations are reversed. The readers (and photographers) who stay in hiding dominate the celebrities who are constantly visible. This panoptic ‘effect’ is further intensified by the discursive mechanisms that create an impression that nothing can be concealed from the Sunday Mirror by the celebrities, even if they wear a disguise, they will be recognised. Simultaneously, various strategies are employed by the newspaper to convince the readers that the ‘evidence’ it presents is really authentic.

Assigned the role of a guard-inspector, the Sunday Mirror’s reader - as readership surveys indicate - is typically working-class or proletarianized middle-class, and so occupies a subordinate position at work and a low socio-economic position in society. In this way, the typical reader of the Sunday Mirror, whose social experience is one of powerlessness and subordination, is put in the position of power by and in the newspaper. Consequently, such delegation of power to the underprivileged readers could be seen as a source of pleasure and one of the ultimate reasons for the popularity of the Sunday Mirror. Interestingly, such symbolic empowerment of the reader in the discourse employed by the Sunday Mirror is matched by the victimisation of celebrities in broadsheet discourse.


The struggle for hegemony

The broadsheets regularly criticise tabloids for the unnecessary invasion of the privacy of various members of the elite, informing their readers about cases of celebrities pursuing civil actions against the tabloids which have published photographs without permission. The lexical analysis of the broadsheet reports on tabloid intrusions has revealed that celebrities are shown as vulnerable to being assaulted by the tabloids and fall prey to tabloid practices. Thus, while in the Sunday Mirror’s discourse the reader is put in a position of power, which s/he exerts over celebrities, correspondingly, in the broadsheet discourse celebrities are being victimised each time tabloids publish pictures taken without their knowledge. The following expressions were used by the broadsheets to describe such intrusions:

·         VICTIM  - “many of his victims”,[xx] “many of Fraser’s other victims”,[xxi] (“his” and “Fraser’s” refer to paparazzi);

·         HUNT - “He hunts the world’s beaches, creeping through bushes (...)”[xxii] (“he” refers to a paprazzo);

·         SUFFER - “(...) they [public figures] have suffered press intrusion for years (...)”[xxiii]

·         PAIN - “The Mirror tried to ease the pain, and deflect any possible criticism, by running a deliberately hyperbolic copy: here’s Camilla ‘showing off a shapely body which could easily belong to a woman half her age’. ”[xxiv]


The vocabulary used to report cases of celebrities photographed off-guard indicates that in broadsheet discourse the relationship between paparazzi and celebrities is seen as an oppressive one (the word ‘hunt’ is especially suggestive of the exact nature of this relationship). Paparazzi pictures are treated as a cause of pain and suffering on the part of celebrities and this suffering is more than a construct of the discourse. Constant observation of celebrities by paparazzi photographers and popular press readers has its impact on the way the celebrities behave and, therefore, the power that tabloids and their readers exert over celebrities is not illusory. As the rock star Liam Gallagher commented in an interview for the Observer:

Wherever I go, there's always someone trying to do your head in. I just jump in a taxi, slide down the back seat and get driven home. I'm not here to moan but it would be nice to be able to go for a walk.[xxv]


The broadsheets, such as for example the Observer, often join the ‘victims’ of paparazzi intrusion in their grief and severely criticise tabloids for their low editorial standards. In this respect, they seem to form a tacit coalition opposing the tabloids and celebrity magazines which thrive on paparazzi shots. Not surprisingly then, their readership is socio-economically distinct from that of tabloids.

Newspaper readership in Britain has always been largely split along class lines. To put it simply, a majority of broadsheet readers are middle-class, while tabloids are mostly read by working-class people. About 87% of the readers of broadsheets are middle class, while only 31% of tabloid press readers belong to this group. In fact, the more downmarket a newspaper is, the fewer from the middle-class are among its readers (see Tunstall: 8-9) [xxvi]. Only 7% of the readers of the daily equivalent of the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Mirror, were people holding professional, administrative or managerial positions, as opposed to, for example, the Guardian and the Times, where 50% and 61% of the readers respectively, belonged to this group (Seymour-Ure: 125-126).[xxvii]

Despite the upgrading of the occupational structure in British society, the class polarisation of the press market largely persists. It could even be argued that, although the working class is declining, the Sunday Mirror remains a newspaper which is read by those in the lowest socio-economic positions, both working-class and increasingly middle-class, large sections of which have now been proletarianized (see e.g. Abercrombie and Warde 1996: 141-145).

Such a combination of economic and class polarisation of the British press market is matched by the antagonism between tabloids and broadsheets, which is especially prominent in respect to paparazzi photography. Tabloids, which are mostly read by people belonging to socio-economically disadvantaged groups in British society, resist the values promoted by the middle-class broadsheets. By showing disrespect for other’s privacy, they depart form the rules which the present order makes them obey, and thus show they contest the dominant ideology and are not willing to conform to social discipline. Yet, the tabloids not only evade the power of the dominant groups, they aim at reversing those power relations - tabloids enable the disempowered reader to exert power over socio-economically advantaged celebrities - and not only in newspaper discourse. Paparazzi pictures can humiliate celebrities and the lives of celebrities, who are constantly pursued by dozens of photographers, are severely affected. Thus, the weapon which the supremacy of the richer groups and the dominant ideology is fought against is not a gun, but a camera.

Such resistance to hegemony or contestation of dominant ideology is characteristic of popular culture. As the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci argued before, popular culture is shaped both by the dominant groups’ endeavour to win hegemony as well as by considerable resistance to that attempt (see Turner: 182-207). Such resistance or contestation of the dominant order cannot overthrow that order, on the contrary, it helps to sustain the status quo. Struggles and tensions between dominant and subordinate groups are, in fact, indispensable for hegemony to be maintained.

Therefore, paparazzi photography and its aim to reverse power relations is unthreatening, as it is incorporated into the dominant culture in order to help secure it. In this respect, even the fact that paparazzi photographs challenge some of the values of the dominant culture by infringing the right to privacy of the famous seems to be licensed by the prevailing order in the name of keeping the status quo in British society. What follows from this statement is that the numerous intrusions into the privacy of celebrities are also approved by that order - especially since no strict measures are taken to curb paparazzi intrusions.

People photographed by paparazzi, various TV celebrities, e.g. soap opera stars or musicians, though they are well-off, hold no real power. Those with real power, for example, politicians, although many of them are well-known, do not seem to be followed by paparazzi - from June 3, 2001 to June 23, 2002 there were no paparazzi pictures of politicians in the Sunday Mirror. From such a situation celebrities emerge not so much victims of the tabloids, but of the system which uses them to suit its purposes.

For the working class and the lower middle class, celebrities still represent or symbolise privileged groups. Thus, the subjugation of celebrities within the Sunday Mirror’s discourse as well as their humiliation, which is more or less real, become a symbolic subjugation and humiliation of all privileged groups. In such a way, the power is transferred to the reader, who is therefore enabled to find more contentment with his/ her subordinate position in the social structure. Moreover, by fuelling interest in celebrities lives, as paparazzi photographs do, they serve to keep it away from politics. If people are happy and not interested in politics, then the present order is maintained and the dominance of those in power is sustained. In many ways, paparazzi photographs, and the celebrities pictured in them, can help people find contentment in their lives and thus with their disadvantaged position in British society, and, in this respect, serve to secure the hegemony of those at power.


The formation of consensus

The concept of hegemony implies that the dominance of the ruling bloc is not coerced by force, but is secured by cultural leadership. In this respect, hegemony manages to explain what earlier Marxist theories failed to account for - the free consent of the most disadvantaged groups to their subordination. The consensus about reality is not something that spontaneously arises, therefore it needs to be continuously won by the dominant group. The winning of the consent of the powerless majority to the social order takes place largely in the media which not so much articulate it as manufacture it (see Hall 1982: 62-88). Paparazzi photography, as a media practice, also has its role in the process of consensus formation. What is more, due to its nature, paparazzi photography seems to be particularly effective in the implementation of consensus formation.

            Since the discourse of photography appears to be a ‘naturalistic’ discourse, it is commonly believed that the photograph cannot lie and what common sense attributes to the photograph is its objectivity (see e.g. Barthes 1994: 19). Regarded as a message without a code, the photograph is thus an ideal vehicle for various ideologies that want to efface themselves. As Stuart Hall (1982) puts it:

Visual discourse is peculiarly vulnerable in this way because the systems of visual recognition on which they depend are so widely available in any culture that they appear to involve no intervention of coding, selection or arrangement. They appear to reproduce the actual trace of reality in the images they transmit. This, of course, is an illusion - the ‘naturalistic illusion’ (...) (pp 75-76)


Additionally, in case of paparazzi photographs various strategies are employed to enhance the impression of a naturalistic vision. Predominantly, the fact that paparazzi photographs are unposed, sneak photographs of celebrities amplifies the feeling that these pictures reproduce reality. Furthermore, technical flaws not only function to enhance the picture’s authenticity, as it was argued earlier, they also give the impression that no selection of photographs has been made. This effect is further intensified by the often random situations and accidental poses in which celebrities are portrayed. Appearing to be a natural presentation of reality, the paparazzi photograph is thus an extremely powerful tool in the process of consensus formation.

The lens of the paparazzi photographer invariably focuses on the private life of celebrities. In the majority of the pictures, celebrities are shown in the most mundane everyday situations like walking down the street, shopping, entering a car or driving, sitting outside a pub or in a restaurant, doing exercises. Such pictures of Brad Pitt, Mick Jagger, Sophie Dahl, Kylie Minogue and James Gooding photographed in the street or the photographs of Liam Gallagher with his girlfriend and son in the park have already been discussed. We can add to this inventory many other photographs, for instance, the pictures of the American actress Calista Flockhart with her adopted son Liam out in the street[xxviii]; the singer Robbie Williams in the street with “a mystery blonde” - as the Sunday Mirror put it,[xxix] or the model Claudia Schiffer in a lingerie shop shopping for underwear[xxx]. However, much more frequently than alone, the celebrities were shown together with their partners. Thus, the English soccer team coach Sven Goran Eriksson was photographed with his girlfriend at a swimming pool in Italy.[xxxi]

The beach pictures of Jerry Hall and Tim Attias have been mentioned previously. The two settings, swimming pools and beaches, are characteristic of pictures showing lovers. Celebrities and their partners are even more often photographed in the city. For example, the Coronation Street star Stephen Beckett was shown with Anne Brecon in a London street[xxxii], as well as the children’s TV presenter Cat Deeley and her boyfriend.[xxxiii] Such pictures usually show celebrities kissing or hugging, or simply looking tenderly at each other.

Generally speaking, what all these paparazzi photographs have in common is that they show the private life of celebrities. They do not present them as successful actors, singers, TV presenters, models, sportsmen, but as ordinary people, as friends, lovers, partners, spouses or parents. The private life, and various everyday activities that this concept entails, gain prominence in these pictures, for as Graham Clarke (1997) puts it:

Merely by announcing its subject, the photograph grants both meaning and significance. The banal, the marginal, the momentary, are given status within an assumed cultural register. The photograph draws attention to and enlarges on the most minute of events. It can make anything important (p 221)


What paparazzi photographs make important is private life. They attach significance to a happy personal life, to love, maternity and fatherhood. Although paparazzi photographs portray people who have succeeded in their jobs, professional life is not the topic of any of these pictures. By ignoring the professional achievements of stars and focusing on their private activities, the Sunday Mirror suggests that private life is more important and matters more than a professional career. The articulation of such a hierarchy of values plays a pivotal role in the construction of the consensus about reality. Taking into account the fact that the majority of the Sunday Mirror’s readers are manual workers, the belief that it is private life (with a happy love relationship) which is a source of personal satisfaction, while professional life does not matter, can help them accept the manual labour they have to perform at their jobs. Such emphasis on private life can serve to make disadvantaged groups content both with their subordinate occupational positions and their underprivileged position in society, and hence help sustain consensus about reality.

Along the same lines, it could be argued that a huge proportion of paparazzi pictures, which show female celebrities with their children, grants significance to motherhood and thus indicates that it is a valuable source of contentment. In the majority of such photographs famous women are depicted simply with their children in the street. The pictures of Calista Flockhart with her son Liam are typical in this respect (Figure 5).[xxxiv] Similarly, the TV presenter Davina McCall was shown taking her baby for a stroll,[xxxv] or the model Cindy Crawford holding her son in her hands.[xxxvi] The text accompanying photographs of the actress Kate Winslett and her sister with their children in pushchairs suggests further what female readers should make out of these images: “Hollywood glamour seemed a million miles away as the sisters shopped for baby clothes and groceries.”[xxxvii] What is implicated here, is that, despite being a glamorous actress, Kate Winslett does her own shopping. By showing well-known, successful women as mothers who engage in the everyday activities of the housewife, these pictures naturalise such roles of women, and function so as to secure the consensus of mothers and housewives who are among the readers.


Figure 5 ‘Mum Ally’s Dummy Run


As the example of the article on Kate Winslett illustrates, the role of captions and other texts accompanying paparazzi pictures is to provide the interpretation of photographs. Texts can fix the meaning of photographs, and in this respect, they can be used as a tool to control the photographic message. So, in fact, the paparazzi photograph, which passes for an authentic, ‘unposed’ and thus objective image of the celebrity, when accompanied by a text, is being further inscribed with certain (often ideological) meanings, which can also be used in the process of the production of consent.

On March 31, 2002 the newspaper published several photographs of Jeremy Clarkson, a BBC2 presenter, taken on a beach (Figure 6). The pictures, which reduce Clarkson to his physique, show that he does not have a shapely body and the article stigmatises him for putting on weight. It begins as follows: “he used to be such a sporty little number - if only he’d taken better care of the bodywork”. A little further this harsh metaphor is developed: “but while he might be checking out the very latest in high-speed supercars when the BBC2 show makes its comeback, Clarkson himself is looking more like a tired old 4x4 - with a giant airbag as standard”.[xxxviii]

This type of text provides us with ways of looking at the pictures. They often use features, usually the celebrities’ assets such as physical appearance, against them. Ridiculing celebrities in this way, they amplify the effect of the paparazzi pictures and thus clearly indicate that celebrities are not so slim and handsome as the public is made to believe. The fact that even celebrities do not have perfect bodies can help the often obese readers be more content with theirs.


Figure 6 ‘Pot Gear’


In the case of the pictures of Cameron Diaz (Figure 1), it is the pictures and the text equally that produce the result.[xxxix] As said before, the article juxtaposes a paparazzi picture taken of Diaz with a picture of her in “Hollywood glamour mode.” The text reinforces the effect of this juxtaposition:

As one of Hollywood’s most stunning actresses, Cameron Diaz has the body, hair, and complexion of a perfect screen goddess.

Or so we always believed. Now, however, it seems her flawless skin may have more to do with the skills of a make-up artist than natural beauty.

Because, as these pictures taken last week prove, Cameron suffers from acne (...)[xl]


In the exactly same way as the pictures of Clarkson, the photographs of Cameron Diaz can keep many women satisfied with their physical appearance. Moreover, by suggesting that the beauty of the actress is a result of a make-up, the article gives hope to the female reader that with skilfully applied make-up, she will be beautiful too.

In a beauty-obsessed society, such images of celebrities perform a very important function - they help people be content with their own bodies. Odd as it may sound, this fact has also its implications for the process of consensus formation in general. People who are content with themselves and lead happy personal lives will be more willing to accept the present social order and their subordinated position within it.

Yet, predominantly, the role of paparazzi photography in manufacturing consent lies in the fact that it asserts significance to private life, while downplaying the role of a professional career. The most disadvantaged people, who constitute majority of the readers of the newspapers that publish such pictures, are therefore more accepting of their manual or non-manual, yet routine, jobs and a low socio-economic position.



Published in the Sunday Mirror, which is mostly read by people in low socio-economic positions, paparazzi photography is inevitably inscribed into the play of power in British society.

The readers of the Sunday Mirror, whose social experience is mainly that of subordination, are put in a position of power by the newspaper. Asymmetrical surveillance of paparazzi photography makes the reader-viewer hold panoptic power over celebrities lives. Accordingly, the discourse of texts which accompany paparazzi photographs further empowers the often underprivileged reader by putting him/her in the position of an guard-inspector whose role is to examine paparazzi photographs, elevated to the status of evidence. Despite various strategies employed by the newspaper in order to affirm the objectivity of such evidence, paparazzi photographs are inevitably burdened with ideologies.

Predominantly, the very selection of pictures indicates that the readers should make sense of their lives as private, and not professional. Thus, the same paparazzi pictures which enable readers to feel empowered, also serve the dominant order by keeping them content in their subordinate occupational and low socio-economic positions in British society. In this respect paparazzi photography plays an important role in the process of consensus formation in Britain. Interestingly, from such a situation the celebrity emerges as a tool produced by the capitalist system and used in various ways to suit its purposes.

The empowerment of the reader in the discourse employed by the Sunday Mirror is made possible by the subjugation, and potential humiliation of the celebrity. By exploring the contrast between posed images of celebrities and the ones fixed on film by paparazzi, paparazzi photography destroys the official image of many a celebrity as an ideal of beauty. Thus, the process of fabricating images of celebrities as icons of beauty by other media, is counterbalanced by the disintegration of such images in the tabloids, as exemplified by the Sunday Mirror. By showing that celebrities are not as beautiful as everybody is made to believe, paparazzi photographs help readers be content with their often far-from-ideal bodies.

Yet, celebrities are not only commonly seen as icons of beauty, they are also embodiments of   the myth of potential universal success. Paparazzi photographs are not a part of that ideology either. On the contrary, they seem to denigrate success by being solely devoted to exposing the private life of celebrities. Everyday ordinary life gains significance in those paparazzi pictures which show that stars also lead such lives. Thus, presenting celebrities as ordinary people, paparazzi photographs help readers make sense of their unglamorous lives and the everyday mundane activities they have to perform as, for example, mothers.

Such findings assert that celebrities are potent vehicles for various ideologies. They can be used to propagate the myth of potential universal success - but this type of ideology is only spread in newspapers and magazines for upscale professionals or for other people in upper socio-economic positions. If the ideology of professional and financial success was addressed to working-class people or lower-middle-class routine clerical workers, most of them would have to make sense of their lives as failures and this fact would not help maintain the dominant order. Therefore in the Sunday Mirror, where two-thirds of the readers are manual workers and most of the remainder belong to the lower middle class, celebrities are used to promote love and the family as a way of life, which is to help readers accept their low position in the social structure. In such a way the most deprived give their active consent to the existing social order in Britain.

It must be concluded though, that the fact that paparazzi photography is inscribed into the hegemonic formation does not prevent people from enjoying and drawing pleasure from such photographs, on the contrary, enabling readers to both oppose and participate in the dominant culture, it provides many points of pertinence to their own social experience. Hence probably the enormous popularity of the Sunday Mirror and other intrusive tabloids in Britain.

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[i] Peter Millar and Adam Nathan, “Victims or Villains?” The Sunday Times, 31 March 2002: 25

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Source: Office for National Statistics, Britain 2001: The Official Yearbook of the United Kingdom (London: The Stationery Office, 2000) p 276

[iv] National Readership Survey “12 Month Data April 2000 - March 2001. Daily Newspapers (Mon-Sat Average Issues), Sunday Newspapers” (10 Oct. 2002)

[v] See: James Morrison, “The long hot summer of the paparazzi,” The Independent, 12 Aug. 2001, http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?story=88312  (27 Dec 2002)

[vi] Niki Waldegrave, “Diaz unmasked” The Sunday Mirror, 30 Dec 2001: 3

[vii] Ian Hyland, “Don’t be so silly, Billie” The Sunday Mirror, 3 June 2001: 23

[viii] Ian Hyland, “Liam Galla-ga-ga” The Sunday Mirror, 26 Aug 2001: 3.

[ix] Niki Waldegrave, “I’m Beard Pitt” The Sunday Mirror, 12 May 2002: 15.

[x] Polly Graham, “TV’s Michelle’s sunshine trip with the lover who left his partner and toddler for her” The Sunday Mirror, 2 June 2002: 15

[xi] James Weatherup, “Jerry’s sea of love” The Sunday Mirror, 6 Jan. 2002: 15

[xii] Polly Graham, “Holby Kissy” The Sunday Mirror, 7 April 2002: 15

[xiii] Graham, “TV’s Michelle’s (...)”

[xiv] Rick Hewett, “Kate Twinslett” The Sunday Mirror, 14 Oct. 2000: 13

[xv] Mike Hamilton, “Letitia’s Love” The Sunday Mirror, 30 Sept 2001: 13.

[xvi] Polly Graham, “Caught you!” The Sunday Mirror, 12 May 2002: 3

[xvii] Graham, “Caught you!”

[xviii] Polly Graham, “Soph, let’s spend the afternoon together” The Sunday Mirror, 17 March 2002: 15

[xix] Weatherup, “Jerry’s sea of love”

[xx] Roy Greenslade,  “Naked fury” The Guardian, 22 Oct 2001  http://media.guardian.co.uk/mediaguardian/story/0,7558,578190,00.html (4 Oct 2002)

[xxi] Roy Greenslade, “Snap judgements” The Guardian, 10 April 2000 http://media.guardian.co.uk/presspublishing/story/0,7495,460104,00.html (10 Oct 2002) Jason Fraser is a famous, or rather an infamous paparazzo.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] John Arlidge,  “Private life! Keep out” The Observer, 4 March 2001  http://www.observer.co.uk/focus/story/0,6903,446206,00.html  (4 Oct 2002)

[xxiv] Greenslade, “Snap judgements”

[xxv] Ted Kessler, “Mad for it” The Observer, 16 June 2002 http://www.observer.co.uk/magazine/story/0,11913,738195,00.html (11 Sept 2002)

[xxvi] Original source according to Tunstall: National Readership Survey, Jan-June 1995

[xxvii] Data for 1986

[xxviii] Rupert Hamer, “Mum Ally’s dummy run,” The Sunday Mirror, 14 April 2002: 33

[xxix] Niki Waldegrave, “Who’s that girl, Rob?” The Sunday Mirror, 17 Feb 2002: 37

[xxx] Dominic Turnbull, “Naugthier Schiffer” The Sunday Mirror, 5 May 2002: 3

[xxxi] Louise Hancock, “There’s no stopping Sven,” The Sunday Mirror, 10 March 2002: 12-13.

[xxxii] Rupert Hamer, “House about it, Steve?” The Sunday Mirror, 10 June 2001: 35.

[xxxiii] James Harper, “Cat’s Deeley Beloved,” The Sunday Mirror, 1 July 2001: 33.

[xxxiv] Hamer, “Mum Ally’s dummy run”

[xxxv] Annabelle Steggles, “Out for Davina McStroll” The Sunday Mirror, 21 April, 2002: 15

[xxxvi] “Model Mum” The Sunday Mirror, 10 March 2002: 27.

[xxxvii] Rick Hewett, “Kate Twinslett” The Sunday Mirror, 14 Oct 2000: 13

[xxxviii] Ibid.

[xxxix] Waldegrave, “Diaz unmasked”

[xl] Ibid.


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