Nadja Sayej on the Miami Roots of Her New Photography Book, Paparazzi Bitch
Updated: Mar 26, 2023
When we think about paparazzi photography, rarely do women photographers come to mind. It’s a man’s job, chasing female actresses, like predator and prey. But it doesn’t have to be, does it?
Nadja Sayej in Miami, photo Jefferson Glitzer
New York-based culture journalist, book author and photographer Nadja Sayej recently launched her latest photo book, Paparazzi Bitch in Miami during the star-studded Art Basel Miami Beach in December. The book features over 100 celebrity photographs shot over the past 10 years from Berlin to New York, Miami and Venice – and it’s a celebration of celebs shot from the female gaze, and a tribute to women photographers everywhere.
And with International Women’s Day having just taken place on March 8, it’s a conversation that’s more relevant, as ever. “I’m not a paparazzi photographer, but I use visual trademarks we see in the style and legacy of paparazzi photography; bright flash, action shots and spontaneous moments,” says Sayej.
Paparazzi Bitch features stars like French actress Catherine Deneuve, New York film director Spike Lee, German fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld (shot three months before he passed away in 2019), award-winning actress Tilda Swinton, and more.
It’s a testament to how close one woman can get to these celebrities, art stars and fashion luminaries, beyond the red tape, the gatekeepers and the screaming fans. This book is like a backstage pass into the lives who dominate our everyday headlines, up close and personal—or at least, captured candidly everywhere from the Venice Film Festival to the Oscars, Paris Fashion Week, and beyond.
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The back story: Sayej has been writing about pop culture for publications like The New York Times, The Guardian and Forbes, since 2003, having interviewed over 1,000 celebrities. But it wasn’t until 2011 that she was given a Nikon camera from a friend (Christo Mitov), which changed her life forever.
She worked as a party photographer in Berlin, a nightlife-driven city, for over seven years. It wasn’t until her first trip to Art Basel Miami Beach in 2016 that changed her perspective on photography - and her access to celebrities. It became an annual pilgrimage to shoot stars and build her portfolio of celebrity photographs, as she shoots for photo agency Backgrid, and has had her photos published in Vanity Fair London, V Magazine, New York Post, and more.
Since she started shooting stars in Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach, the rest is history. “Why in Miami?” she asks. “I have gotten some of my best shots, be it Paris Hilton DJing at the W Hotel in South Beach, Fat Joe captured at a party at the PAMM Museum, or even Chance the Rapper in the VIP booth at a concert,” she says.
“I have also captured Miami locals like DJ Khaled in his element - at his birthday party in December during Art Basel with his wife, who was pregnant at the time. They’re all iconic moments that are lively, fun and in the spirit of Miami’s exciting nightlife, and without the pretentiousness of Los Angeles or New York.”
More and more, Miami is becoming a hotspot for celebrities. Many stars have homes (or second homes) in Miami, from Cher to Madonna, Tommy Hilfiger, Jennifer Lopez and Julio Iglesias, but as we know, all the stars fly in for Art Basel, from Cardi B to Kim Kardashian.
“Just as real estate is growing in Miami, so is the demand for a wilder nightlife, as well as more high-profile VIP party spots, which many celebrities are spotted at, as well,” says Sayej.
This book, Paparazzi Bitch, not only is a testament of her success as a female photographer, but her sharp elbows to gain access to celebrities. It comes down to know-how, getting on the right guest list, and being faster in the face of other photographers.
“It’s more than just getting ‘the money shot,’” says Sayej. “I love photographing celebrities because they bring the hype to any party, film premieres, or red carpets – the three core types of places where I photograph them. When they arrive at public events, they’re prepared to be photographed in public, glammed up and all smiles.”
While many photographers, and smartphones, are always ready to shoot celebs when they make public appearances, she hopes her iconic, black and white photos offer something more.
“I hope my photos offer a genuine moment or behind-the-scenes glance that offers more insight and depth than other photographers,” says Sayej.
“The best photographs, after all, capture someone’s soul.”
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