Volume 80, Number 3 | June 16 - 22, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Paparazzo Diary

Villager photos by J.B. Nicholas

Victoria Beckham, a.k.a. Posh Spice, above, at Bergdorf Goodman on Fashion’s Night Out, Sept. 10, 2009.

Waiting outside Rockefeller Center on June 3 at the Justin Bieber “slumber party.”

And so it begins… I am not a pervert, I am not a per…

BY J.B. Nicholas

What I will tell you, what I’ll confess to you, at least what I’ll begin with, is what I do. I am a photojournalist. In other words, I take pictures for a living, pictures of the rich and famous, the poor and infamous, from presidents to prostitutes, bankers to bookies, and everything in between, below and above, even the dead, sometimes especially the dead, all the lives, deaths, scandals and successes that punctuate life in the place I call home, the great city of New York.

Welcome to my world.

It’s not as glamorous or romantic as you think it is. It’s not like I’m trotting the globe with a kifaya wrapped around my face, dodging bullets one day, police batons the next, camera in one hand, Gauloise in the other, rotating home every now and again to pop bottles with models in whatever postmodern glass-and-granite temple of decadence is the place to scene and be seen at the time. But it does have its moments. And these are the moments that I’ll share with you here. The kind of moments, first and foremost, where all bullshit is blasted away, allowing a glimmer of truth to peek through, whatever that truth may be, whether it’s the joie de vivre of a glamorous actress in the springtime of her beauty, or the heartbreak of a weeping mother whose son has just been shot to death on a ghetto street.

Moments like these. …

“I’m a professional, not a pervert,” I said to the patrolman, gesturing to the N.Y.P.D.-issued press pass hanging from my neck, wondering silently to myself if it were true. He stood sentry in front of a line of mostly tween girls boxed in by police barricades on the south side of Rockefeller Center. There were hundreds of them, from the four corners of the country and beyond. They had been drawn to the city by the promise of a free concert by their idol, 16-year-old Canadian singing sensation Justin Bieber.

With weary eyes, the patrolman glanced at my press pass, then nodded acknowledgement.

I surveyed the scene. It was nearly midnight. The metal barricades stretched down the block all the way to Fifth Ave. Inside them were the girls, along with a smattering of teen boys wearing the flat-brimmed trucker caps that are a sign of Bieber style, together with a handful of mothers and fathers. Some stood, some reclined on beach chairs, some lay on inflatable plastic mattresses of the kind typically associated with surf and sand, rather than sidewalk and street. But most seemed to be pinballing about between their spots in line, the sidewalk, the street and Rockefeller Center itself, where a temporary stage had been installed.

In short, they had turned the place into a giant slumber party in the street!

Just then a group of girls shrieked past us. The patrolman yelled after them to slow down, but they didn’t even pause. He turned to me and shrugged his shoulders, “What are you gonna do?”

“Ever thought you’d be chaperoning a bunch of teenage girls when you took this job?” I asked.

“Nope,” he answered.

“Me neither.”

Whatever. I’m here to take pictures, nothing more, nothing less, I told myself.

Then they started screaming for it, literarily, screaming at me to take their pictures as I walked down the line looking for interesting subjects to shoot. “Paparazzi!!!” they yelled, demanding my attention. “Paparazzi!!! Over here!!!” It was all a little much, as if the mere act of me taking their pictures would cause them to instantly transform into “famous,” when the truth is that most of my images never go anywhere besides the digital dustbins that newspapers and magazines call archives.

That’s when I saw her. She wasn’t screaming like the others. She was standing there smiling at me, pressed up against the silver bars of the barricade, dark brown hair hanging straight down the right side of her face — a smart, feminine twist of Bieber’s signature “swoop” do — black shorts and an immodest, black, sleeveless, V-neck top. Her taut, tan flesh simmered in the warm streetlight, adorned with black Sharpie graffiti proclaiming her love for Bieber, including a line across her bare upper chest. She was with a friend. I asked them to stand with their feet on the barricade, so the graffiti on their legs would be visible to my camera’s lens.

When I was done I offered my thanks, and she asked for my e-mail, so she could get the pictures I’d just taken.

“I’d like to, but I can’t — imagine what your mom would say?”

“I guess you’re right,” she replied.

And with that I turned and melted into the night, repeating to myself what I’d told the patrolman when I first appeared, I’m a professional not a pervert.

 


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