Eastern Exposure: On the Prowl With a Hamptons Native-Turned-Paparazzo

EVERYONE HERE IS looking to see who everyone is. More to the point, everyone is looking to see if anyone is someone. Eventually a series of questions emerges. First: Who is that person, and is he or she famous? If not, second: What is he or she doing here? Third: Am I famous? If not, fourth: What am I doing here? Fifth: Who am I? Of course, these questions are null and void if the subject is wealthy.

No doubt Mr. Agudo has felt these pangs of being a nobody in a town full, at least during the summer, of somebodies. As we drove by a particularly large oceanfront property, he pointed out, “This is some really rich guy. He tore up the dune and didn’t even care. It must be nice, man. Just to move somewhere, total disregard for any laws … Maybe I’ll have that problem one day. But living out here, and seeing them, with all the cars, you want that problem. I don’t want to be a snob or anything. I want to go to the next level. That’s why we’re doing this.”

Like all paparazzi, or at least all those quoted in the press, Mr. Agudo makes a distinction between his modus operandi and those of competing photographers. He respects his subjects’ privacy; they disregard it completely. This impulse toward decency-even if often not adhered to-could have its drawbacks. As Peter Howe, author of Paparazzi, once put it, “The real paparazzi are the ones who come up with these amazing creative ways of invading somebody else’s privacy.”

Felix Filho, a photographer with the infamous and wildly successful Los Angeles photo agency X-17, was even more forthright. “To be a pap,” he told The Atlantic, “you
have to be ready to do anything, legal or illegal.” At times, Mr. Agudo seems to lack such resolve.

Though he has paid hot-dog vendors and shopkeepers for tips and once rented a cherry picker to hoist him into the air for an over-the-fence shot, Mr. Agudo favors a noninvasive, cooperative approach. After all, these people are his neighbors. “I honestly think,” he told me, “that if a lot of them knew that I was just a local boy trying to do right by ‘em, you know, do right by myself, they might give me a little opportunity. … You just gotta be forward and ask. If you don’t, you never know.

“I’m just trying to get out of Three Mile, like Eminem,” he continued, referencing both the name of the trailer park where he lived, Three Mile Harbor, and the movie 8 Mile, starring the popular white rapper. One paparazzo told me he wouldn’t work a summer in the Hamptons for less than $100,000. Mr. Agudo has not yet moved into that income bracket. He told me that his best “get,” a shot of Lindsay Lohan, netted him several thousand dollars. Some he sells for as little as $20. 

We headed to a local yacht club-the name of which Mr. Agudo requested go unmentioned-to “check out this guy, see if he’s on tour or not.”

“Who?” I inquired

“Paul McCartney.”

Sir Paul, it turns out, is the ur-quarry, part of the hamptonsgrind.com origin myth. “I was doing photography like 10 years ago,” he recalled. “Just landscape. From there, I bumped into a few people. Paul McCartney, when he was going out with Heather Mills. I had a landscape camera, and Heather Mills got out of the car and smacked me with her pocketbook.” He had shown me the photo earlier, of the couple in a Rolls-Royce. “I’m sure ever since that day, he hasn’t really been driving that around too much. He’s probably got it in storage.” He didn’t use the photo because Ms. Mills had been so upset. “They were on their way to Splitsville, U.S.A., anyway.”

We eased into the club parking lot, did the usual scan for recognizables, saw none and made a U-turn. Back on the Montauk Highway, Mr. Agudo reconsidered an earlier prohibition on stopping at a local church fair. (Earlier, he said, “I’m not gonna bother them with their families.” Now, he said, “They all live here. Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts. For them, they could walk here.”)

As we parked the car, a man in a large white Chevy work truck slowed, rolled down his window and yelled to Mr. Agudo, “I just saw Gwyneth.”

“Oh, shit,” he responded. Back in the car.

After some scouting of the roads near the house where Gwyneth Paltrow summers with husband Chris Martin, we came to a stop at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Bluff Road. Mr. Agudo looked thoughtfully left then right, then left again, muttering to himself, “If I were Gwyneth …” Right again, then left, he then proceeded straight, through the intersection. Apparently, if he were Ms. Paltrow, Mr. Agudo would head for the beach. Easing down the sand-dusted road, we came up behind a caravan of cyclists, what looked to be a few teenagers and a grown woman. Mr. Agudo craned his neck around as we pass. The woman was blond, but, as it turned out, not a famous movie star. “There’s too many bikers for me today,” Mr. Agudo said.

We arrived once again at the small parking lot of the beach. Two flaxen-haired girls were sitting languidly by a fruit stand. Mr. Agudo, furrowed his brow and scanned the limited horizon for a glimpse of Ms. Paltrow. She was nowhere to be seen, the closest thing being the lanky, towheaded pair behind the crate of plums.

As we look out at the ocean, a tanned teenage boy walked down the steps from the concession shack, spinning a lanyard.

“Hey, is Seinfeld down there?” the boy barked to the girls.

“Oh, shit.” Mr. Agudo’s ears pricked up. “Did you hear that?” He could already envision the big Jerry shot.

The girls slowly turned their sunglasses in the boy’s direction.

“What?” said one.

“What?” echoed the other.

He pointed to the front of their table. “Your sign fell down there,” the boy repeated.

“Oh,” they answered in unison, without moving to fix it.

U-turn. Back up the road. Away from the beach.

editorial@observer.com