Are Paparazzi Shots of Celebrities at Airports a Form of Art?

Norman Vanamee
·4 min read
Photo credit: Dennis Stone/Shutterstock
Photo credit: Dennis Stone/Shutterstock

During her three decades working at Rolling Stone, photo and creative director Jodi Peckman developed a habit. She spent most of her time overseeing photo shoots of music and movie stars, but part of her job was to also comb through paparazzi shots offered by stock agencies. She’d pick images of celebrities at concerts, parties, and premieres and they’d run in the magazine’s Random Notes section. But while she was at it, she printed out photos of those same celebs at airports—waiting for planes, lugging bags, killing time—and pinned them to a bulletin board on her office wall.

“I’m not sure why I started,” Peckman said in a recent phone call. “I’m really into fashion, so maybe part of it was just enjoying looking at people’s clothing.” But there was something else that attracted her. “Sometimes I’d fall in love with an image simply on the merit of it being a really good photograph. Paparazzi don’t have much time to compose their shots, so it’s inspiring when they get something that is really interesting.” The locations also offered a new perspective on a group of people she already spent so much time looking at. “The subjects are out in public so the photos are not exactly voyeuristic. But the moments are not staged and therefore they're kind of personal.”

After a while, the bulletin board overflowed into folders and Peckman found herself with a full-blown collection. She considered staging a gallery show, but decided instead to present her favorites in a book, Come Fly With Me: Flying in Style, which Rizzoli will publish later this month.

The images are presented with minimal information, just names, dates, and locations, to keep readers’ attention on the composition. We asked Peckman to take us through a few shots and describe what caught her eye.

Paul and Linda McCartney, LGW, 1971

Photo credit: Central Press - Getty Images
Photo credit: Central Press - Getty Images

"This was the first photo that I ever pulled aside. It was the one that started my fascination with these pictures. It falls into every category. It's a great photograph, really well composed, really graphic and interesting to look at. If you're curious about fashion, it's kind of the epitome of what was going on in the seventies, even with what the little girls were wearing."

Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, LCY 1969

Photo credit: William Lovelace
Photo credit: William Lovelace

"I just love the clothes in this picture, especially his checkered suit and raincoat and her hat. I also love that they're in this really normal setting. Jagger was, and is, so famous—it's nice to see him in that context."

Joan Collins, LHR 1989

Photo credit: Dennis Stone/Shutterstock
Photo credit: Dennis Stone/Shutterstock

"Look at that Louis Vuitton luggage set! I mean, it just stopped me in my tracks. The entire picture is a stack of luggage that’s bigger than she is. I love the expression on her face and the porter orchestrating it. Her initials are, of course, on all the bags."

Muhammad Ali, LHR 1967

Photo credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo - Alamy
Photo credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo - Alamy

"This is a perfect photo to me. One thing that's really wonderful and unusual about it is there's nobody else in the picture. Then there’s the outfit: a perfect white suit, a black-striped tie, black shoes, and a black briefcase. And the pose: he's caught in mid-stride and he's staring right at the camera. It's really immediate—a world famous athlete but in an everyday situation.”

Rihanna, Lax 2015

Photo credit: SplashNews.com - Splash News
Photo credit: SplashNews.com - Splash News

"This one is all about the shape that coat makes. It looks like it's a satin bomber or a baseball jacket. When you first look, you're not quite sure what it is. On second look, you see someone hiding. It has that airport vibe in the background, and she's holding her little makeup bag or jewelry case, whatever that is. The photo has really great flow and energy."

Justin Bieber, LAX, 2015

Photo credit: RBRA - BACKGRID
Photo credit: RBRA - BACKGRID

"Current images are harder to find because celebrities don't come through public airports as much anymore. I found it interesting that you can still see people like him in a public space. And I loved how it really represents that time, with the trucker hat and the headphones on and the sweat pants. A snapshot of what's happening right then in fashion."

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