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As the COVID-19 epidemic rages in Los Angeles, stars are social distancing like everyone else. As a result, the paparazzi business — already under significant threat as stars increasingly short-circuit the market for candid photos and videos by flooding social media with their own content — is facing its leanest period yet.
“It was bad, but this coronavirus has definitely created another blow,” says Francois Navarre, owner of X17, whose photo agency is one of the most prominent firms in the sector. “It’s becoming very fragile.”
Navarre spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about why medical masks ruin pictures, what tabloid readers want to see right now and the new-to-L.A. couple who he thinks may yet save the local paparazzi corps when the “Safer at Home” directive is lifted.
It’s totally unknown territory. We’re still taking pictures. But we don’t know who will buy them. In Europe, the market’s dead, starting a month ago. Budgets fell out right away. [Outlets] said, “We aren’t going to be able to sell as many copies in the coming weeks.” They knew they were going to have a drop in advertisements and a drop in circulation. Now, the [American] market is almost dead.
Do you know any photographers who’ve gotten sick with COVID-19 so far?
Celebrities are social distancing, as the expression goes, just like us.
Right. Nobody at the airport. The gym? That’s gone. Restaurants? Done. And nobody goes out at night.
But they’re still walking, jogging and going on grocery store runs.
The other day we got Cara Delevingne with a mask [at Erewhon Market]. But there’s only so many times you can get [someone in] a mask before it’s boring. And now 90 percent of the celebrities are wearing a mask when they go out — they’re taking the opportunity to cover themselves that way. The first time, people care, you get some sells, it’s a novelty. But people want to see a face in pictures. The expression matters. And besides, the masks are too negative — people want an escape from themselves, their own lives. They want happy stories.
What would be a happy story to capture?
Celebrities escaping the gloom of the coronavirus. Can they jump in a private jet and land on a private island? Some of them have that; the magazines would like to show that. Pierce Brosnan took shelter in an isolated part of Hawaii. Johnny Depp has a private island in the Bahamas. Beyonce and Jay-Z — where are they now?
What keeps you upbeat?
Meghan [Markle] and Prince Harry just arrived in L.A. They’re hiding in some compound. Eventually, they’ll come out.
So you think the celebrity photo market will bounce back?
It will bounce back, for sure. I found Greek texts from 2,000 years ago where people were fascinated by then-celebrities. It will be the same for 2,000 more years.
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