I became fascinated with Brad Elterman’s classic rock imagery (and amazing caption-writing) from the ’70s and ’80s at the inception of this blog, and was recently in touch with him about his current activities. He continues to shape the paparazzi industry from the inside– he’s now a co-founder of Buzz Foto.
A little Q&A follows.
Brad Elterman (on the right), then:
How did you get started in the paparazzi business?
Iwas not always a paparazzo. I shot for all of the record companies and rock magazines. I was friends with many of the bands and we all hung out. Back in 1975 I wanted to take photos of David Bowie while he was in L.A and I was turned down by the publicist. Bowie was such a provocative figure back then and every move he made was controlled by his management and PR. That was really something back then, because there was very little control between the media and the talent back then.
I got word that he was recording at Cherokee Studio on Fairfax and I thought to myself that it would be fun to try and make a photo of him as he left the studio. I waited all night for him and around 6am he emerged with with producer Paul Buckmaster holding the tapes for Man Who Sold The World. He left in a unwashed Mercedes and that photograph made a full page in Creem Magazine’s section “Stars In Their Cars”. I was a bit concerned if my first paparazzi gig would ruin me in the industry, but I was all of about 19 back then and all of the PR adored me and got a great laugh out of it.
What are your favorite images that you’ve taken through the years?
My favorite is Bob Dylan backstage at The Roxy. Ronee Blakley who appears in the photo introduced me to Dylan and he asked me to set up this wonderful photograph of him with Robert DeNiro, Lainie Kazan, David Blue, Sally Kirkland and Martine Getty. I swear that today I can still feel the adrenaline rush. There are so many other cool moments. The Ramones, Joan Jett, Frank Sinatra. Photographers today just do not know what it is like to make a photograph of a real icon. The stars who the magazines run today are totally boring to me.
I did numerous photo sessions of Joan back in the day. It was not just to help promote The Runaways, but we hung out as friends. Joan and I did photos all over town including the park, the beach, playing softball, in the recording studio, the street, eating a hot dog, the list goes on and on. This photo was taken in front of the old Tropicana Motel when she was shacked up at the time. You would not even recognize the street today, and I would never in my wildest dreams imagine that she would go on to become such a star and cult figure. I wish Joan would call me one of these days!
You could never make this photograph today; it would be impossible. Today,you would need a major magazine assignment, total control of the P.R.and management, hair, makeup, dancing midgets and a full-on catering truck. The P.R. would want approval of all photos and someone would probably want a check.
I received a phone call from the editor of Superteen magazine to do a photo shoot with this unknown 16-year-old actor, Matt Dillon. She asked me to call Vic Ramos, his manager, and set it up. I called and the next day they showed up at my home. Vic read a magazine and I took photos. No hair, makeup or stylist. No overproduced sets oruseless publicists wasting oxygen. Most importantly, I was able to keep my syndication rights; that meant I could sell the photos wherever I wanted without restrictions.
I shot this with one strobe head — the way film stars were shot back then. I ran into Matt at Barfly about fifteen years later and he did not have aclue who I was, nor did he care. He also walked off with a girl whom I had just met that evening in the parking lot.
I was hired by Nippon Phonogram Records in Japan to do this session of the Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie at her Van Nuys home. I previously photographed her on stage, backstage, hanging out, etc. Her twin sister Marie, pictured on the left, also became a singer and the girl in the center is Vickie Ronald, with whom I attended Van Nuys High School. Record producer Kim Fowley later discovered her when he transformed her into “Vickie Razor Blade” in a band called “Venus And The Razor Blades.” Like me, they all wanted to get out of the Valley to the other side of the hill to discover the magic.
Cherie, at a 2007 show of Elterman’s work
What was your goal with the formation of Buzz Foto, and have you found that the idea of paparazzi as an art form has been accepted?
This was my third agency. In 1980 I formed California Features International. In 1992 I co-founded Online USA which we eventually sold to Getty in 2000. I stayed out of the industry traveling and trying to figure my next move. During those years I heard all of these nightmare stories of shady photo agency operators and streets full of illegals speeding all over town making boring photos. My concept for Buzz Foto was to use brilliant photographers who had a passion for their craft and run the business by the book.
The internet and blogging was what really motivated my return to the business. I was fascinated with Perez Hilton and his success. I wanted more than to build a new photo agency, I wanted to build a brand and a brand with a web presence and a semblance of class.
I came from a family of art collectors and I have always been active in the arts. It dawned on me one day that if you knew your craft was a photographer, you could make a beautiful iconic photograph that would be published in the magazines and could eventually hang in a gallery or at MoMA in New York. There is nothing different from what were are doing today compared with the work of Walker Evans or Helen Levitt. The concept of Paparazzi As An Art Form has been accepted, and we did our first gallery exhibition early this year at the Seyhoun Gallery on Melrose Ave. The response from the public and the media was overwhelming.
What is your favorite images in the collection?
My personal favorite is Paris Hilton with her pink surfboard. It is the quintessential paparazzi photograph. The photo was taken last summer when Paris was renting a Malibu beach house. We sent over a new,but incredibly talented photographer, Mr. Nunez, to watch Paris. He had probably held a camera in his hand no more than a week when he made this legendary photograph.
She comes out of the beach house holding herpink surfboard in one hand and her doggie in the other. She is wearing a leopard swimsuit and high heels. All of this going on and she shoves the prink surf board into her $300,000 Bentley, and the photo wa sexclusive! You could have asked for a more beautiful paparazzi photograph. It was on the cover of our invitation for the gallery.
How do you think the idea of paparazzi will evolve in the future? Will there be a time when it will become less of an invasion in celebrities’ lives?
Paparazzi will always be around. The PR will continue to have a stranglehold on the media and that will only continue the demand for this type of imagery. I hope that it becomes less invasive. There must be boundaries and I am shocked to see what goes on these days.
Check out all things Brad, here.