Francois Navarre's major brush with the legal system occurred eight years ago, when he bought photographs of Jennifer Aniston sunbathing topless in her Malibu backyard and transmitted them for sale to an Italian photo agent. Even though the photographer scaled an 8-foot wall with a telephoto lens to invade the star's privacy, Navarre does not admit to a wobbly moral compass. Instead, he says, the case was merely the result of a cultural misunderstanding.
"Brandy was against sending that picture," says Navarre. "She knew that the nudity was a problem. But for me, the nudity was not a problem. Today I understand it because I have been here 15 years, but at that time I had only been here five years and I didn't feel the problem. Don't forget, I grew up in St. Tropez, where everybody was half-naked. This was part of my American education."
It was an expensive learning experience: Navarre paid $550,000 to settle the case, and apologized to Aniston.
Navarre cruises past the Chateau Marmont off Sunset, a favorite spot of starlets such as Lohan, but it's still light and too early for any good action. He's talking about the time, 10 years ago, when he was trying to decide whether he really could make a go of the business and thinking about getting into real estate instead. "I was wondering, is it possible to make a living, to really build a company based on seeing stars on the street?"
His phone rings. It's a magazine in Australia interested in photographs of Courtney Love, who has been spotted on a Hawaiian beach looking emaciated. Weight changes, implants, cosmetic procedures, new romantic liaisons--these are what make a paparazzo's heart race.
We think we spot Helen Mirren strolling across Melrose near the Pacific Design Center and holding an umbrella against the sun. Navarre makes a U-turn, then slows down. In one seamless motion, he reaches into the back seat, unzips a bag, pulls out a camera with a telephoto lens, pulls to the curb, points the camera toward the lady with the umbrella and squeezes off a dozen shots.
He has no idea whether it's really Mirren. He will blow up the photos on the computer when he gets home. If it is Mirren, one of the English papers might bite. It's not Britney, but you never know.
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The $300,000 shot
Some pictures are worth a thousand words. some are worth more.
To understand the paparazzi way of thinking--that a photograph is just a snapshot unless it illustrates an interesting story--Francois Navarre recounts how a photograph he took of an exultant Nicole Kidman on July 31, 2001, earned him an almost instant $300,000.
Three months before Kidman and Tom Cruise announced their split in February 2001, Navarre's photographers were telling him that something in the relationship was amiss.
"Everyone was saying how fantastic that couple was, because they were on the red carpet, all lovey-dovey," says Navarre. "But my little group of two or three guys, we see a discrepancy between what the world is seeing and reality. They were not spending time together. When they were together they were not talking. She was constantly in a bad mood."
When the couple finally announced their marriage was kaput, X17 had scads of supporting evidence to sell. And when Navarre followed Kidman, his erstwhile neighbor, down Sunset Boulevard to a Beverly Hills office, and sat outside in his little Toyota Corolla watching lawyers go in and out all day, he found himself with a scoop. At the end of the day, in his telephoto lens, he caught Kidman, all by herself, looking uncharacteristically happy, if not ecstatic.
"We had never seen her like that, like she had just won $100 million or something!" he says. "That photo was printed everywhere."
"Francois called me at work," says his wife and business partner, Brandy Navarre. "You could tell his heart was pounding. He said, 'You have never seen an expression on her face like this!' It was like, 'I am so happy, I am free of this jerk!'"--R.A.
For more paparazzi photos from X17, go to latimes.com/X17