Confessions of a teenage paparazzo

Blaine Hewison-Jones spends his days at school – and his nights on the prowl for stars on the streets of LA
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The Independent Online

Los Angeles, 10.30pm on a Friday night, and 15-year-old Blaine Hewison-Jones is getting ready to hit the town. Wearing a grey hoodie, baggy jeans, black trainers and a baseball cap, he accessorises with a big, digital Nikon camera, long telephoto lens and fancy flash-pack, worth a total of more than £3,000. He may be too young to drink or drive, but neither he nor his parents think he is too young to stand outside LA's bars, restaurants and clubs, photographing the celebrities who frequent them.

Hewison-Jones is one of a new breed of paparazzi – young teenagers who are chauffeured around LA, usually by their parents, in search of the famous and infamous. Tonight, he is following up on a tip that sounds too good to be true – Brad Pitt and David Beckham are rumoured to be dining together in a restaurant near Sunset. "I haven't got Brad, so this will be cool," he says with a smile that reveals a full set of braces.

To see such youth working in any profession, never mind the paparazzi circuit which is traditionally populated by the grizzled and the cut-throat, is shocking. But the lot of the paparazzo has changed dramatically in recent years. First, there was digitalisation. If you can get hold of enough capital to shell out on camera equipment, that is all you need to get started – these days no photographic training is required. Secondly, there is the seemingly endless media appetite for pictures. With some images changing hands for life-changing amounts of money, it explains why numbers of paparazzi have soared and the average age has plummeted.

Last week it was reported that British photographer Nick Stern had resigned from Splash, the LA-based celebrity picture agency, due to the aggressive tactics it employed in pursuing Britney Spears. "Directly or indirectly, Britney is going to come to some horrific end," he said. Hewison-Jones has no such qualms: "Britney flipped me off one day in her car and I sold that picture to an art gallery, which was cool. Right now, I feel bad for her. I hope she doesn't end up killing herself; I have feelings for celebrities. I could have shot Lindsay Lohan crying, but I refused."

So cannibalistic has celebrity culture become that as Hewison-Jones goes to work, a two-man documentary crew gets ready to follow him. The blond teenager is now himself a minor celebrity for joining the ranks of the paparazzi at such a young age, and when we sit down to chat in the apartment he shares with his parents, we are filmed constantly. "It's helped me in a lot of ways," he says of the attention. "But I'm not going to do this forever. I don't want to be known as a paparazzo when I'm 20, you know?"

Hewison-Jones' father, Robert Hewison, 36, a musician, moved his family to Hollywood from Idaho to look for work when his son was seven. Initially, Hewison-Jones detested the packs of photographers he saw buzzing around. "I first saw paparazzi shooting Paris Hilton," he says. "I watched them swarming in on her. I felt bad for her."

Hewison-Jones spent his pre-teen years skateboarding around the neighbourhood, playing soccer, and going to the beach. Then one day his best friend, Austin Visschedyk, 14, let Hewison-Jones use his camera and the boys started taking shots around town and in the mountains when they went snowboarding. But with celebrity-filled restaurants a mere skateboard ride away, it wasn't long before they were lured into trying paparazzi-style shots. "We weren't so good at the full-body framing," admits Hewison-Jones. "We were just doing these square shots. It wasn't very pro." But they had fun and liked the attention from the stars and other photographers, so Hewison-Jones persuaded his dad to buy him a camera.

Together with a video camera-carrying friend, Josh Dempsey, 15, the two boys started to frequent celebrity haunts. Hewison-Jones is home-schooled, so he studies in the mornings and goes big-name hunting in the afternoons. "Some of them call the paps to come," Hewison-Jones tells me, as if revealing a trade secret. "Some like it, some don't. When you choose to be a celebrity, you should know what's going to happen."

Even so, he is aware that it's not a completely black and white issue. "There are the bad paparazzi," he says. "The ones who climb on cars, who break into private property and do stuff they shouldn't and I'm totally against that. I'm only 15; I don't need to be all car-chasing on my scooter. But then you get the good ones and they showed us angles. They showed us the boundary rules of the places we shot at and really helped us out."

Nevertheless, Kevin Smith, co-founder of Splash, is worried that kids so young and inexperienced are out at night, fighting for position among much older, bigger photographers. "It's a hostile workplace," he says. "It's not as glamorous or as easy as it looks. It's no place for a kid."

Hewison-Jones' father, though, is confident that his son is being responsible out there. "We know he doesn't do anything stupid," he says. "We never let him go out at night alone. There is always someone there to watch him."

Mr Hewison won't allow Blaine to either work for, or sell his pictures to, an agency, publishing them instead on a website on which they sell advertising. Hewison's production company is one of two making a documentary about Blaine (the other is being made by the star of Entourage, Adrian Grenier), but he insists he never pushed his son into this. "It's up to him if this is a field he wants to be in," he says.

And here we are, shortly after 11pm, standing on the pavement in Hollywood outside the trendy sushi restaurant where Beckham and Pitt are supposedly about to dine. While Hewison-Jones was told his tip was exclusive, there are six other photographers watching the comings and goings when we arrive.

"I hate the waiting," Hewison-Jones tells me on a now-crowded pavement. "I like when the celebrity comes out and you gotta think of your next move to get your shot. I love that feeling. And I love talking to the celebrity."

At half-past midnight, after snapping a couple of vaguely recognisable but not really famous, or sellable, faces, and after all the other paparazzi have slinked away, Hewison-Jones decides the tip was a dud. There is no sign of Brad or Beckham (who actually arrived in Sierra Leone earlier that day) and not even a whiff of another A-lister.

Hewison-Jones isn't bothered. He has other things to think about: a reality television series about him and Visschedyk is now in the final stages of development. "That's pretty cool to me," he says of starring in his own TV show. "I couldn't care less about being famous, but for the money I would do it."