LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Paparazzi are getting a lot of bad press these days, so it takes some chutzpah to launch a photography exhibit called "Paparazzi as an Art Form" in the heart of celebrityville.
Billed as one of the first shows of its kind, the Los Angeles-based paparazzi agency Buzz Foto on Friday began a week-long exhibit of glossy pictures of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and other stars that they believe could one day grace the walls of major museums and art galleries.
Buzz Foto hopes its 26 shots will show that paparazzi photography, despite its reputation for intrusiveness and bad manners, can be a form of art.
"Our photographs have the potential to hang next to those great masters. Executed properly, images of today's celebrities can exude an incredible amount of style and elegance that portray our ever-changing and exciting pop culture," said Buzz Foto co-founder Brad Elterman, a 30-year industry veteran.
"No-one has thought about being proud of paparazzi. People think we are just one step above being child molesters. But we are not tacky people," Elterman told Reuters.
On the walls of the Maryam Seyhoun Gallery on Melrose Avenue -- a stone's throw from the famed celebrity and paparazzi hangouts of The Ivy restaurant -- a startled Diana Ross is captured, without make-up, pushing a shopping cart in her local supermarket.
Socialite Paris Hilton is snapped wearing a leopard print swimsuit and high heels, clutching a tiny dog in one hand and placing a neon pink surfboard into a luxury car.
A single image of Britney Spears, shot in the summer of 2007, shows the fallen pop star wearing a pink wig, sitting in a car, and staring blankly straight at the camera lens.
The 24-hour paparazzi pursuit of Spears during her highly-publicized meltdown for what is thought to be a bipolar disorder has brought controversy and condemnation.
Several paparazzi trailing Spears night and day have been arrested for reckless driving and she has been followed by photographers into churches and bathrooms, prompting one Los Angeles councilman to propose a "personal safety zone" law to protect celebrities from intrusive photographers.
Buzz Foto says it does not assign photographers to trail the troubled pop star because working with the "pack," with its crushes and high-speed chases, is too dangerous and the market for wacky Spears pictures is saturated.
But Elterman and business partner Henry Flores say there is no longer a market in posed pictures of celebrities.
"The red carpet is dead. Magazine editors want to see these people in real-life situations," Elterman said.
They are not alone, it seems. Several celebrities have accepted invitations to Friday's opening reception where the photos are expected to be snapped up for around $2,000 each.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Stuart Grudgings