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So What Do You Do, Jamie McCarthy, Celebrity Photographer?

'Depending on what my client needs, I can pretty much [shoot] whatever they require.'

- September 25, 2013
There was no digital photography when Jamie McCarthy started snapping pictures of celebrities in the mid-90s. Just a trusty Nikon N90s camera, rolls of wide film and nightly sessions of cutting it all up.

Then and now, McCarthy has always prided himself on getting along with the celebrities he photographs. He knows many of them socially, never photographs them in bad light and, as a result, has established in them a great deal of trust.

Mediabistro caught up with McCarthy on the heels of one of his busiest times of the year -- New York Fashion Week. He was still raving about DKNY's 25th-anniversary party, where he shot around 1,500 photos and got to work on stage alongside the night's various musical performers.

Name: Jamie McCarthy
Position: Senior staff photographer, Getty / WireImage
Resume: Over the span of 17 years, Jamie McCarthy has established himself as a trusted, go-to photographer for a wide range of celebrity-driven events and private shoots. He started in the picture-taking business at age 21, working alongside his uncle Patrick McMullan. After eight years of helping McMullan grow the business, McCarthy moved over to WireImage and then Getty Images.
Birthday: January 30, 1974
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Education: Sheepshead Bay High School
Marital status: Single
Mentor: Patrick McMullan
Best career advice received: My uncle, Patrick, once told me,"Be polite and use your charm and personality to make the subjects of your photos feel comfortable, and it will show through in the photos."
Guilty pleasure: Video games
Last book read: Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time, by Susan Scott
Instagram handle: @iamjmccarthy

How exactly did you arrive at Getty Images?
I came aboard Getty through [its] acquisition of WireImage. Sometimes I shoot for WireImage, sometimes I shoot for Getty. And for certain clients, my images go on both services. But all my photography essentially runs through the Getty brand. And in Hollywood, we currently have a partnership with Variety. I'm one of the main guys who covers red-carpet events and parties for them.

Has the rise of TMZ affected the way you do your job?
Not really. My team of photographers at Getty, we're kind of like the anti-TMZ. We're the guys that are pretty much on the inside. So we're the guys who want to do the nice photos and make them look good, whereas TMZ and those guys I feel like they're looking more for the dirt on celebrities.

"My clients hire me because they know they can trust me and I'm not going to give up [their] secrets."

My clients hire me because they know they can trust me and I'm not going to give up secrets about them and I make them look good. I want people who see the photos to say, 'Wow, she looks beautiful' or 'He's great-looking.' Also, I only shoot at events where people are expecting photographs to be taken. I've never tried to shoot people in their personal lives. That's not my style.

The TMZ thing is kind of weird. I'll give you an example. I work a lot with Nicole Polizzi (Snooki). She's a good friend of mine. We were on the beach during the summer doing some casual photos. There was a paparazzo there; she followed us from the house to the beach and photographed me taking pictures of her. And it ended up on TMZ, and it kind of ruined the exclusive that I had.

What other kinds of assignments have you been doing recently with celebrities?
Last summer, again with Snooki, I did the spread for People magazine when she had her baby. The baby was five days old, making him (Lorenzo) the youngest person to ever be on the cover of the magazine. The reason I got that, again, was the trust issue. You want someone you can trust around the baby, who's going to be careful.

I also fly around a lot with Jessica Simpson to do photography for her clothing line. As a matter of fact, she just booked me to go to Dallas in November. So I have certain clients and certain magazines who hire me. But I will pretty much shoot anything. I'm well-versed in portrait photography, event photography, concerts, weddings. Depending on what my client needs, I can pretty much do whatever they require.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do Jawn Murray, Entertainment Reporter?

You started your career working with your uncle, legendary society and nightlife photographer Patrick McMullan. Can you tell us a bit more about those days?
He's still out there, and we actually worked together just two nights ago. I didn't really know what I was going to do at the time. I was just a kid who had a camera, who took pictures for fun, never thinking I could make a career out of it. And I didn't really know what he did, until one day I was at his apartment and saw him looking through film. So I started interning for him.

I was with him for eight years. I ended up becoming president and helping his company grow. But I wanted to do other things, so I left and started at the bottom again at WireImage. It wasn't too hard because I had worked with him and had clients. I met a lot of cool people when I was working with him and I brought those relationships with me. Our relationship sort of got strained at certain times because working for family is never easy. But now we work side by side.

"When somebody comes up to you and says, 'I love those photos you took of me that I saw in People magazine,' that makes it all worthwhile."

Can you think of an example of a photo you took, in which the public's subsequent reaction to it really surprised you?
Here's a great one. I shoot the Webby Awards every year. It's mainly an industry event, not a lot of celebrities. There was an older gentleman there who had this big, old-school cell phone. Like one of those big bricks. I thought, 'This guy looks kind of cool,' and kind of chatted him up. Turned out he was the guy who invented the cell phone [Martin Cooper].

So I took some photos of him and didn't really think anything of it. But then recently, it was the 40th anniversary of the invention of the cell phone. And that photo was everywhere, on every tech site and Internet site. It got the kind of play that a Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie picture usually does. For weeks, I was getting Google Alerts for this photo. Pretty amazing.

Besides your uncle, who were some of the other photographers that influenced you?
I was always a fan of David LaChapelle. And I actually got to meet him and do a portrait of him, which was really cool, at Sundance. I've always liked his style. He has this really abstract approach; it's always very well produced. Lots of colors. And he knows how to work with great subjects -- like, for example, Madonna in the middle of a block party kind of scenario. Or Leonardo DiCaprio as a young kid with some wild backdrop. He was always one of those guys who stood out to me because his stuff is so off the wall. I always liked Terry Richardson too. I met him, and he was such a nice, cool guy.

And that ties into one of the best rewards for me from this job. When somebody comes up to you and says, 'I love those photos you took of me that I saw in People magazine,' that makes it all worthwhile. And it's nice when you get to work and have fun at the same time. It's changed a bit over the years and has become a bit more controlled. But you still get those times [when] celebrities let photographers in that they trust and let their hair down. I've literally sat, for example, at a table in Vegas with a celebrity, and put my camera on the table. They know when they want me to take a photo; they'll ask me.

I've had magazine editors tell me they can put up a hundred photos and see which ones are mine because [of] the expressions people give and the sincerity of the smiles. That comes from just being a person and being a good guy and treating everyone with respect.

Richard Horgan is co-editor of FishbowlNY.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do Jawn Murray, Entertainment Reporter?

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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