How it all started...

If you were to see a casual photographer around town and called him a paparazzi, beware; he might be tempted to throw his camera at you, especially if he considers himself to be a photojournalist. So what's the difference you may ask? The answer is in the meaning of paparazzi, "buzzing insects."

In 1960, these pesky freelance journalists were immortalized in Federico Fellini's internationally popular film La Dolce Vita, Italian for "The Sweet Life."(See pic.1 below) La Dolce Vita focuses on the life of a jaded journalist, Marcello (played by Marcello Mastroianni), and his photographer colleague, Paparazzo (Walter Santesso). The origin of the name Paparazzo is disputed, but its onomatopoeic resemblance to the Sicilian word for an oversize mosquito, papataceo,made it apt to compare with Fellini's statement: "Paparazzo suggests to me a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging." Fellini also drew an image of the character in which he describes; the drawing is of a human-like figure that has no bone structure and instead, looks like a vampirish insectile, implying that paparazzi, like mosquitoes, are also parasites. (see pic.2 below)

After the movie was first released in Italy, the word paparazzi became synonymous with intrusive photographers who chase the stars to get that revealing act on film. However, Fellini said it was not the photographers he tried to emulate. Fellini claimed that he was putting newspapers and weeklies on film, and many of the vignettes that make up the movie refer directly to news stories. He wanted to capture the paparazzi-inspired events where reporters often begged involved parties for a story. However, it was the freezing-frenzied movements in the pictures captured by the photographer that sparked viewer interest, even for Fellini. "It recreates life in movement," he once stated.

The incorporation of the word paparazzi into the English language is indefinitely tied to La Dolce Vita when it was released in the United States in 1961. Time magazine introduced the word to the American public in an article entitled, "Paparazzi on the Prowl." Included is a paparazzi picture of throngs of reporters blocking the car of a princess visiting Rome. The text discloses "a ravenous wolf pack of freelance photographers who stalk big names for a living and fire with flash guns at a pointblank." Soon, the term would be spread across the pages of major news and entertainment publications across the globe, often accompanied by incriminating photos of the stars. Publications that were soon to follow this trend included Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and Life magazine. It was later introduced on the television screen by popular news-oriented shows like 60 Minutes. But no matter what the medium used to report on these "celebrity bounty hunters," it was clear that paparazzo was a derogative term.

1)Paparazzi in a scene from Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, 1960

2)Federic Fellini's drawing of Paparazzo, a character in La Dolce Vita.



SOURCE: Celant, Germano. The Italian Metamorphosis, 1943-1968. New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 1994, pp. 324-332