Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Teenage Paparazzo

I read a column in an old Popular Photography magazine. The columnist received a letter from an insurance salesman who owned a camera and decided to be a photojournalist. He wanted to go on assignment somewhere exotic. He asked where to sign up and how much he would be paid.

Even educated people thought they could just pick up their cameras, head for a war zone and be professional photojournalists.

Well. Turns out the idiots were right. It doesn't take years of experience to be a highly paid professional photographer. All it takes is a camera.

There's a documentary made by Adrian Grenier called Teenage Paparazzo about a kid named Austin Visschedyk. It focuses on Austin even though he had a friend, Blaine, who's also a teenage paparazzo but isn't quite as cute (Sorry, Blaine). The two boys run around LA with the grown-up paparazzi---one of them with a $3,000 camera his father bought him for that purpose. The little bastards make $500 to $1,000 per picture.

Austin became a bit of a celebrity himself---the subject of the documentary, for one thing. Both boys have websites which have a little "TM" after their names. They are now registered trademarks.

From a review by Chris Knight:
...the film gets most interesting when Austin, inebriated by all the attention, gets weirder, taking on the mannerisms of the pampered stars he follows. Grenier arrives with his camera crew one day to find Austin with his friend Blaine, whose dad is making his own movie. "Who are you with?" he asks another photographer. "Teen Vogue," the guy answers, doing a shoot about Blaine's dad's shoot.
Trying to rein in this pint-sized media monster, Grenier takes advice from Whoopi Goldberg, who suggests that, if Austin doesn't become the next Annie Leibovitz, his fame will fade the minute his voice changes. Maybe the boy can be steered toward an interest in serious photojournalism?
No luck. When Austin is shown the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from the 1970 Kent State shootings -- of a girl screaming and kneeling over the body of a dead protester -- he shrugs and looks away. Not dramatic enough. Grenier, aghast, looks like a modern Prometheus.
There's something horrible about rich kids in Hollywood. I saw one of them on an MTV show called Cribs. The show has camera crews visit celebrities in their homes. And their homes are all pretty much alike. Everything they have is new. It's pretty much interchangeable. They could trade houses and no one would notice. And they all had the same cars---a gray BMW and the biggest, ugliest black SUV they could find.

The kid actor on Cribs---I think he was an undersized teenager who could pass for a 12-year-old---had appeared on that candid camera show Ashton Kutcher did, and was later cast in a short-lived sit-com. Looking at the kid's house, you could see his family was rich. They weren't living on the kid's money. It made me wonder what motivated this tasteless, bourgeois family to get their child on TV.

The idea of poor single mothers driving their children to auditions never bothered me. I'm all for it. But I can't understand these bourgeois parents. One look at their house and you can see that they don't have the slightest creative impulse.

In the case the the teenage paparazzi, you have rich parents spending thousands of dollars promoting their kids' efforts, which would probably be fine if they weren't doing something sleazy.

Austin Visschedyk is no Doogie Howser. All he has is a willingness to harass people with his camera and parents who let him do it. It doesn't say much for them. Or for the other paparazzi who aren't doing anything a seventh grader couldn't do just as well.

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