The beauty in movement

Local photographer chronicles her time in the paparazzi

Courtesy of Jennifer Buhl
Audra Figgins | Boulder Weekly

The world isn’t a private place anymore,” says photographer Jennifer Buhl.

Her memoir, Shooting Stars, hits shelves April 1 and it chronicles the three years she spent snapping pictures of celebrities in Hollywood. Yes, she was a member of the dreaded paparazzi, and her book sheds light on a fascinating, and sometimes scintillating, world that most people know little about.

Buhl, from the Boulder area, is as energetic and bright as every page of her memoir. Her face lights up in reminiscence and she speaks with a confident ease and familiarity.

“I couldn’t not write it,” she says of how this book came about. “After that first day, it was too spectacular not to write it down.”

The first day in question involved a wild car chase after Britney Spears, and although she didn’t get the shot, her first paparazzi experience left her hooked on the heat of the pursuit.

“People are, by nature, voyeurs,” says Buhl. “But sometimes in our disparate world today, people form relationships by following public figures.”

And that’s where the paparazzi comes in.

“We’re fascinated by these beautiful people that are larger than life. And I don’t think it’s as nasty as people like to say.”

Fascination with the rich and famous has a long history, and demonized as they may be, the paparazzi arguably show the public what they want to see: that celebrities are only people.

“Here’s Zac Efron, he shops for his own groceries. He’s just like you,” Buhl says, shrugging her shoulders.

At the same time, Buhl says that photos in tabloids don’t appear just so you can get the skinny on celebrities while waiting in line at
the grocery store.

“Celebrities use us too,” Buhl says, “Look at Heidi [Montag] and Spencer [Pratt]. You can make fun of them, but they made millions of dollars by making themselves famous.”

And what about the public perception of the paparazzi as horrible, bottom-feeding lowlifes? Buhl says that’s not the case, that celebrities understand that media attention is good for them, and will generally at least tolerate the presence of the paparazzi. Many even enjoy the attention, and will even tell the paparazzi where they will be.

“Truth be told, 90 percent of what the tabloids buy, what we make money on, are pretty, happy celebrities looking good.”

The world of the paparazzi is not an easy one, especially for a woman. Being one of a small handful of women amidst the hundreds of male paparazzos in L.A. made it difficult for Buhl to break in. But she wasn’t afraid to ask questions and learn from her colleagues, and that was the key to quickly becoming a top earner.

Once you get past the street gang culture of the paparazzi, the worst part of ‘papping,’ as Buhl affectionately calls it, is the fear.

“It’s like an internal bullet, that fear of embarrassment and humiliation, and it’s the number one reason you’ll fail as paparazzi,” she says.

Besides delving into the politics of the paparazzi and the mysterious world of celebrities, the book also records Buhl’s own journey to self discovery.

“That’s the last thing I wanted to write about,” Buhl exclaims. But she describes the moment where she realized she was the main character of her book.

“To show my regular girl-ness and my desires was really important,” she says. “To some degree, you have to be naked on those pages, because people need to know they are getting your heart and your truth.”

By telling her story, Buhl hopes people will see her for who she is, and that they will even come to see a bit of themselves in her.

Buhl is now a lifestyle and family photographer here in Boulder.

“It’s not nearly as exciting, but it’s definitely extremely challenging,” she says, and even though her days of papping are over, the influence of those years is readily apparent in her photographic style.

“It’s a little different,” Buhl says of her photography, “because I always make people walk and run towards me. I think movement is so beautiful.”

To capture the wide smile growing across her face would make a perfect shot.