Pictures of celebs on holiday used to be the currency of professional paparazzi. Hiding behind a parasol with a long lens, bribing bell boys and blagging access to private beaches were all part of the dark arts of securing the glamorous images of holidaying stars sunbathing in the Seychelles, frolicking in Florida or canoodling in the Caribbean.
Newspapers and magazines knew a good thing when they saw it and such shots became a staple of tabloid coverage. They provided and instant hit of sun, sea, sand and celebrity: with the most sought after exclusives snapped up for large sums.
Some celebs sued, some decided to stay indoors. The smarter, or perhaps the more desperate, decided to get in on the act themselves. The art of the set up pap shot was born, with agency photographers commissioned (at arm’s length) by the celeb or their PR, to photograph their holiday in a flattering light in return for the newspaper coverage and sometimes a share of the profits.
Now, the celeb agencies are being cut out. Via Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, celebs are taking and uploading their own holiday snaps and sharing them with their audience (and the tabloids) directly.
Rihanna has recently been posting snaps of her holidays to her near 55 million worldwide Facebook fan base, while British favourite Kelly Brook has been uploading her ubiquitous bikini shots from the beaches of Brazil and elsewhere on Tumblr. The previously social media shy Beyoncé also got in on the act, launching her official Tumblr site with a host of personal photos. All have been lapped up by the UK tabloid press, almost unable to believe their luck at a stream of A list images delivered to them free of fees and legalities.
However, while the papers revel in free photo spreads now, they’ll surely be wise to the longer term situation it creates. Like in so many areas of this new 21st century media, the traditional channels of photo distribution are becoming secondary. The ability to connect directly with fans has made Rihanna and others their own publishing houses. Celebs are publishing on their own terms, using exclusive photos, not as something to be protected and controlled, but as free content to share and widen their fan-base and their ‘brand’. Social media has been the game-changer creating a new mind-set that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
And it’s not just sun kissed celebs. Although The Sun bought up the rights to Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba’s story of his recovery from a cardiac arrest on the pitch, the first pictures of Muwamba following his recovery were issued by his fiancée on Twitter . What, in a previous era would have been an exclusive photo worth maybe several hundred thousand pounds, now snapped on a smart-phone and issued for free on Twitter. Amid the mass goodwill and concern that Muwamba’s fight for life generated, it seemed a fitting touch.
Post by Tim Kerr, Joint Managing Director @ TNR Communications