On the Katie and Suri Beat With a New York Paparazzo

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

On a recent afternoon, photographer Jae Donnelly waits outside a Chelsea apartment building. The block is busy with buses screeching by and a steady flow of foot traffic into a Whole Foods on the corner, but for Donnelly, it's been a slow day. He stands alone, his eyes trained on a door. This is where Katie Holmes lives.

Ever since news of Katie's divorce from Tom Cruise this past summer, the cash cow for New York paparazzi are shots of the star with her six-year-old daughter, Suri. A half dozen photographers regularly camp outside their home, and today Donnelly has been waiting for more than three hours.

"A lot of what I do is waiting and staring and waiting and staring," the 38-year-old Brit said. "Most people would think I'm wasting my life away, but that's what I do to get a picture."

And it's not just about getting a picture. It's about getting the right picture. The best photos are candid shots of celebrities. Clear shots of faces. Think Us Weekly's Just Like Us section. For this reason, Donnelly tries to go undetected. 

"The kind of stuff that I do, you won't even know that I'm there," he explained. "What I try to do is blend in with the surroundings. I could be anywhere: in bushes, in trees, in someone else's apartment...shooting out of their window." Donnelly recently paid a stranger "a couple grand" to shoot out of his window.

A press photographer by training, Donnelly worked for the big national papers in the U.K. before an agency recruited him to shoot celebrities in America. That was 6 years ago. Since then, he’s become an industry insider: He has landed exclusive shots of Jennifer Aniston sunbathing with John Mayer, Prince Andrew mingling with a registered sex offender, P. Diddy stepping on dog poop.

Sometimes, he daydreams about quitting the business but the money is just too good. An exclusive set of photos—the kind that breaks a story — has earned him as much as $60,000 dollars.

"I really have the most ridiculous job on earth," Donnelly said. "I can get some pictures of a reality-TV person crying, and it makes more money than my poor dad, who was a builder, slugged his guts out.... I just go click-click and earn a silly amount of money. It's bonkers."


More in:

Comments [3]

James from Brooklyn

I normally abhor paparazzi and celebrity-worshipping culture but this video actually made me feel compassionately for this photographer. It really humanizes this role that many of us look down upon as being parasitic. It's true that people crave these images because they want to feel like they know the famous people they look up to. (And they want to escape their own lives.) But really, I was struck by hearing Jae talk about his own perspective on the job. He obviously comes from a working class background and understands the absurdity of the situation. I also thought it was fascinating that he distinguishes himself from other paparazzi who are more likely to get in peoples' faces.

Dec. 06 2012 10:16 AM
Allison from New York

To Andrew....

You are an exact example of any publicity is good publicity....if you find this so abhorrent then why watch and comment on it....i take it you don't read newspapers or watch tv either as i'm sure you would be writing letters to is a huge business and celebs make even more money by wearing clothes to get shot in!! You need to study a media course and you may turn from ignorant to intellectual!!

Dec. 05 2012 08:16 PM

I can't believe this is a relevant story on NPR. This man should be ashamed as should the editor who posted this story. He and his fellow leaches are the reason why we swoon over useless individuals like Kim Kardashian. Stop taking these photos, stop reporting on them, and stop reading about them. None of us want some random person taking an exposing photo of me and putting it up on the internet, how does it become just when we do it with our celebrities? This is filth, not art.

Dec. 05 2012 09:18 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About Know Your Neighbor

Know Your Neighbor is a video series about the characters, legends, and good folk living in your midst.

Nominate your neighbor: I'm looking to profile fascinating people in every corner of the city. Leave a comment or email about someone you'd like me to profile, and I just may come to your 'hood to produce a video about their story.


Supported by