ecoPaparazzi: what’s in a name?

ecoPaparazzo Jeanette McDermott

"ecoPaparazzo" Jeanette McDermott

GreenMuze ran a piece recently about ecoPaparazzi, a kind of social network for photographers and videographers who pursue images of environmental destruction, animal abuse and other eco-crimes along with images of the beauty of Nature. The piece was mostly an interview with ecoPaparazzi founder Jeanette McDermott. Reading it, I was reminded of both the power of images and the courage of activists in documenting and communicating ecological devastation.

Without taking anything away from their work, I’ll offer two brief thoughts.

First, it’s true that “paparazzi” is catchy and a bit edgy, but is it the right metaphor? I mean it brings to mind images of the most sleazy and mercenary kind of photography. As GreenMuze puts it, the negative connotations are pretty clear: 

Paparazzi are pretty much universally thought of as an irritant at best, and absolute scum at worst. They are relentless in their pursuit, they intrude, spy, reveal, expose and shame.

Furthermore, these folks “stalk Earth abusers” instead of celebrities and founder Jeanette McDermott refers to herself as an “investigative photojournalist.” From the point of view of the “Earth abusers,” these people would be reviled in the way that celebrities often revile their paparazzi. But let’s pull apart the metaphor just a bit more. These folks are photographing crimes against the planet (as they see them) and are trying to expose wrong-doing. Not so with the celebrity paparazzi; they are in it for the money. What McDermott and her colleagues are doing is ethically-motivated rather than economically-motivated intrusion.

It seems that from both emotive and cognitive perspectives, the term paparazzi evokes the opposite of what these people are all about. They are activists, bearing witness and taking pictures to prove their points, and their work is tremendously important in communicating the terror some people are wreaking on the planet and its inhabitants. But they need a more accurate and positive sounding name. I can’t think of a term specifically for photographers who do this sort of thing, but perhaps readers can leave suggestions via the comment system. 

My second thought can be articulated much more succinctly. While some of their images and videos can be seen on the ecoPaparazzi site, there does not appear to be a systematic way to search for, let alone license the use of the images. These people need to create an image bank and find a way to license the use of their work (perhaps through Creative Commons) in order to get it out there more widely. Or perhaps something like this already exists. Anyone know?

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About Mark Meisner

Executive Director of the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA). I also research, teach, write about, and speak on environmental and sustainability communication, media, culture, and policy. Facts are usually facts, but opinions and sense of humour are always my own.
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1 Response to ecoPaparazzi: what’s in a name?

  1. Brian Rugen says:

    I think you raise a very important question about the metaphor that is being used, by McDermott and others–who are doing great work.

    I work at a university in Japan. I entered “paparazzi” into a popular, online English–Japanese dictionary ( and it came back with 12 examples of its use. Here are a few:

    2. “Paparazzi….shadow celebrities…take sensational photographs”

    3. “Paparazzi frenzy”

    7. “Harassed by paparazzi”

    8. “In recent years, paparazzi have been the root of an increasing number of problems.”

    9. “regulate … paparazzi”

    10. “….victims of paparazzi…”

    Indeed, the particular ideological representations associated with the word have become naturalized, as N. Fairclough would say.

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