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

Matt Agudo’s habitual base of operations is the Starbucks in East Hampton. On a recent Saturday morning, he was flipping through a bale of local publications: Dan’s Papers, Hamptons magazine, the New York Post. “That would’ve been the photo there!” he said, pointing to a Page Six snapshot of that tangerine nightmare, Snooki of Jersey Shore, being arrested. “I’m sure somebody got paid for that.”

There is really only one industry in the Hamptons: the rich and famous. They propel the local economy whether you’re talking about landscaping, real estate, hardwood flooring, waiting tables or taking unauthorized photos of celebrities for profit. Mr. Agudo spent years doing the first-driving a backhoe-before he decided to try the last, full time. In 2008, he started the Web site hamptonsgrind.com. Since then he has made his living running the site (he’s looking for venture capital) and selling photos of celebrities to outlets like In Touch, Life & Style and sundry foreign publications.

The Hamptons have long been an upper-class refuge, a place where they could sun and swim among their own, unharassed by the rest of us. But in recent years, the culture of celebrity spectacle has firmly taken hold here, as much as it has in Manhattan, Los Angeles and London.

“I said, you know, let me make my hobby make me some money,” he explained. “You can’t grow up out here and watch your town be taken over by all the millionaires without, you know, wanting a piece of it.”

Mr. Agudo, 39, is a big man who favors cargo shorts and short-sleeved button-up shirts. His close-shorn hair and sun-tanned complexion give him the air of an ex-military man, but he has lived in East Hampton all his life.

The Starbucks is where he begins each day’s hunt and often where he gets his first photo.

As I was standing outside waiting for him to join me, George Stephanopoulos walked up-looking every bit 35 of his 49 years-wearing khaki shorts, a faded blue polo shirt and dingy white Jack Purcells. He had two dogs in tow, one a solicitous miniature dachshund, the other a barky beast of unapparent breed (possibly a Glen of Imaal terrier). After tying up the dogs, he headed into the Starbucks. I hung back and waited to see how Mr. Agudo would play the situation. Eventually, Mr. Stephanopoulos came back out, retrieved his dogs and went on his way.

Puzzled, I headed back inside to find Mr. Agudo talking to the comedian Michael Showalter in line.

Mr. Agudo came back to the table and excitedly asked, “Did you just see what happened?”

“Stephanopoulos or the guy you were just talking to?”

“Wait, is he somebody?” Mr. Agudo asked me.

“Yeah, he’s a comedian. He’s on TV. His name’s Michael something.”

“See, because I asked him if he was anybody, and he said no. I’m gonna go say, ‘Hey Mike,’ and see what he says.”

After a moment Mr. Agudo returned to his seat, winked and made a chk-chk noise out of the side of his mouth.

I had a landscape camera. I bumped into Paul McCartney, and Heather Mills got out of the car and smacked me with her pocketbook.

“He totally did not like that,” Mr. Agudo informed me, admitting that at first he thought Mr. Showalter might have been the musician Perry Farrell.

He was feeling the day’s possibilities, the notion first thing in the morning that today might be the day when you catch someone really famous-Madonna, say-doing something really boring-grocery shopping, say-and sell the shot for a tidy sum. Rubbing his hands together, he said, “Here we go. Hopefully, get a good one today. A moneymaker.” He darted outside to catch a snapshot of the newscaster before he disappeared. “We’ll throw him on Hamptons Grind. Celebrity dogs,” he added.

It was time to head out. Mr. Agudo made a preliminary round of nearby restaurants and shops. With his camera in his backpack and his hands in his pockets, he didn’t walk as much as skulk. This lurking demeanor would seem even more suspect when we later dropped by a petting zoo in search of stars with their kids.

With no luck in town, it was time to hit the road. Mr. Agudo’s white Ford Escort is conspicuous among the Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins and immaculate classic cars. The first stop was East Hampton Main Beach.

After a brief stroll around the concession stand there, we got into the car, made a U-turn and slid back toward town. A white convertible Beetle approached from the opposite direction.

“Look, is this Russell Simmons? Look, there’s Russell. Where’s he going?” Mr. Agudo said. “See, this is the shit. He’d drive right by you. But to me, I’m in the business. He’s nothing, but if you get him in the shot, on the beach. I hope he’s going in there with his shirt off, yeah, you never know.”

We made a U-turn, and crept up on Mr. Simmons’ car from behind. Then we made another U-turn, exiting the lot. “He’s just at the beach. Leave him be,” Mr. Agudo decided. “I made money on him a little while ago. I’m not even gonna bother the guy,” he continued, easing the car to the side of the road and adjusting his side mirror to better surveil the rap mogul.

“Where’s Rev. Run? That’s who I want to see today,” he continued, referring to Mr. Simmons brother, the Rev. Joseph Simmons, an ordained minister and member of the rap trio Run-DMC.

Little more than 100 yards down the road, I spotted a flashy convertible, a 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS ragtop, whose driver I recognized.

“There’s Bon Jovi,” I pointed out.

“Holy shit!” Mr. Agudo exclaimed as the rock star made a left in front of us. We made a hasty U-turn and passed Mr. Bon Jovi’s gate just as he pulled into the driveway of his redoubtable house and under a well-concealed carport.

East Hampton in the summer is very much a walking and biking community (though the traffic is still a special kind of hell), and each cyclist or pedestrian we passed received a once-over from Mr. Agudo. We passed a woman jogging, and Mr. Agudo sang to himself, “Who could it be? Are you anybody famous?” We passed a couple in a pedal car. “I thought it was someone, but …” It turned out it was no one, just a person. This is a chronic pastime out here, even for the nonprofessionals.

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