chasing ben

The Story of Bennifer, As Told by the Paparazzi Who Chase Them

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez boarding a vaporetto taxi boat during the 78th Venice Film Festival. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images

From virtually the moment they exploded into public consciousness as a celebrity portmanteau, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have remained a top paparazzi priority — a glamorous cash cow generating millions of dollars for, now, two distinct generations of marauding celebrity photographers. Bennifer version 1.0 spanned the years 2002 to 2004, the exploits of their romantic union ushering in a so-called golden age for both tabloids and paps: a robust micro-economy that helped reconfigure the celebrity-industrial complex. But even after the stars broke up on the way to the altar and they retreated into separate marriages — Ben with Jennifer Garner, Jen with Marc Anthony — tabloid interest in them never waned. It maintained momentum until, in the wake of their more recent respective breakups (Jennifer with the recalcitrant Alex Rodriguez, Ben with Ana de Armas), Bennifer 2.0 rematerialized in a strobe of flashing camera bulbs this April.

Then as now, the couple has galvanized a full complement of aggressive paparazzi to document their every move. Then as now, their images are splashed across guilty-pleasure reads such as the Daily Mail and TMZ. But some things are different this time around. To start, thanks to Lopez and Affleck’s continued willingness to “give it up” to photographers and their sheer ubiquity in 2021 — making out on balconies, canoodling on yachts, clubbing in Saint-Tropez, hugging in New York City parks — the dollar value for most photo sets of the two has plummeted. We spoke with a number of veteran paparazzi and pap agency owners about this evolution of Bennifer — the early days, their blessed reunion and the subsequent drop in prices for their photos, and what in particular has kept them chasing after Ben and Jen after all these years.

“We call it the golden era of the celebrity candids business.”

As a photographer, you have certain things you’re looking for: new relationships, babies, kids. The go-to shots are new romances. But two celebrities together? Two good-looking celebrities? At the top of their game? Bennifer was the start of the major bidding-war mentality, the tabloid feeding frenzy among publications, the huge six-figure paydays. That was a time that will be etched into everyone’s minds. We call it the golden era of the celebrity candids business.

The early pictures of them were going for low- to mid-six figures. And then the ongoing relationship — it was $100,000, $200,000. Compared to now, that’s unheard of. Every day, $5,000, $10,000 on single-image pictures. You can still make money today, but the whole scale of things has dropped down.

Generally speaking, Ben and Jen are both fairly accessible — even in the beginning. They would drive around in a convertible Bentley in the middle of the day. You’re not exactly trying to hide. But then our industry began to change. People who weren’t trained as photographers started coming in. It was just people who knew how to push the shutter on a camera.

Whenever there’s a high dollar amount, there’s always infighting. And the type of person in this business shooting — I’ll be blunt about it — they’re not of the highest moral caliber. There were some fisticuffs, some verbal back-and-forth, because the stakes of shooting Ben and Jen were so high. There was a lot of tension. A lot of competitiveness. Would the photographers try to kill each other? No. But I heard a rumor that one agency was hiring ex-cons released from the California prison system; you would get a tax benefit if you hired them. —Randy Bauer, veteran paparazzo and owner/co-founder of the Bauer-Griffin Agency

“It wouldn’t be uncommon to have five, six, ten cars of paparazzi following Jennifer and Ben.”

They were pap fodder pretty much from day one. Blogs were nonexistent, so it was all print media: Star, Globe, the National Enquirer, In Touch magazine, the New York Post, People magazine, Us Weekly. And all of them were competing. Pictures of Ben and Jen kissing in the back of a Rolls-Royce — just the backs of their heads — sold for five figures. It wouldn’t be uncommon to have five, six, ten cars of paparazzi following Jennifer and Ben around. Carloads of people chasing them, sometimes at high rates of speed. If you were shooting them, it was still very much considered an invasion of privacy. It was a lot more intrusive than it is now.

You’d want pictures of them doing anything. I remember getting pictures of J.Lo and Ben in the car — Ben getting pulled over for speeding or a tinted window or whatever. You’d want it to be story-based. Make sure you get the two-shot of them in the car. Make sure you get the cop. Make sure you get the cop talking to them. Whether the story is true or not is irrelevant. He’s probably asking the cop to tell five carloads of guys to stop.

But this time around, the money isn’t nearly as good. I haven’t bothered to work on them for a number of reasons. There’s people on them every single day, so getting an exclusive isn’t going to happen. There’s still demand — with TMZ, the Daily Mail — but the dollar amount has lessened. Photo sets of them go for three to four figures, depending on what they’re doing. A shot of them having dinner, nonexclusive, that’s probably a couple of grand. Chances are whatever you get today, somebody else is going to get pretty much damn near the same thing tomorrow.

The thing about Ben, before he was with Jennifer Lopez, nobody cared. Ever since that, he’s been tabloid fodder every single day of his life. I’m sure somebody could ask Ben and he’d deny it, but I think that there’s a part of his psyche that’s playing into getting photographed by paps. He came up to me and yelled at me a couple of times for taking photos of him. I’m sitting there thinking, Why are you yelling at me? I’m sorry, but you’re walking the dog the same time in the morning and damn near the same time every evening. If you didn’t want to get shot, you wouldn’t. Come on. I think you like the attention to an extent. You may not like the constant throng of it. But the problem with fame is you can’t turn it off. Giles Harrison, veteran paparazzo and founder of London Entertainment Group

“You’ve got to go to his house, and you’ve got to post up for 10, 12, 14 hours straight.”

I’ve gotten cussed out by Elton John. (He called me a stupid cunt.) I’ve been cussed out by David Beckham more times than I can count. But I’ve never had Ben say one negative thing to me ever. Same with Jennifer Lopez. Ben and Jen are a great story. They look good. They’re both rich. They’ve got previous history together. The funny thing is, when you look at Ben with Jen Garner, he wasn’t really so flashy. There’s just something when he gets around Jennifer Lopez, that’s when you start seeing yachts. Last time I saw him, he was wearing a fur coat like a rapper.

If you want to get Ben, you’ve got to go to his house, and you’ve got to post up for 10, 12, 14 hours straight. There’s a team of guys that work on both Ben and Jennifer Lopez. I was up in Bel Air recently and saw the guys outside Jennifer’s house waiting to catch them. I’ve never been the best at doorstepping. But those guys, they’re in it for the long haul. Really focused.

When you break the story that Ben and Jen are back together and nobody knew it before, that’s big money. But just them walking around? Once it’s old news, you’re talking maybe a couple hundred bucks here or there. If they go to New York and they’re walking around together and ten different guys get it, you might make 50 bucks if you’re lucky. What’s going to happen is one of those photographers is going to give it to Getty or Shutterstock or one of those bigger companies and undercut all the competition. I’ve posted them a lot on The Hollywood Fix, and they won’t get 10,000 views — which for me is nothing. I need something to get millions of views before I start to see good money on it.

I think they will sustain interest as a celebrity couple. But as far as the intensity of people trying to get them, it’s going down. If Ben and Jen keep coming out every day, and they’re seen every single day, and there’s 15 guys on it, those guys are going to say, “I can’t pay my bills off this.” —Fletcher Greene, working paparazzo and owner/founder of The Hollywood Fix

“Ben knows how to play the game. He knows people want pictures.”

I used to work Jennifer Garner and Ben a lot, and Ben when he was single. Once I was asleep at the bottom of his street, because when you show up early, you might get him exclusive. He pulled up next to my car and said, “Let’s go. If you can keep up with me, I’ll give you pictures.” That was fun because I was in a Prius and he was in a high-powered BMW 7 series, and it was a race.

My last experience with him and Ana de Armas, they came out and they walked the dog. They went three blocks down the road, and it took roughly an hour because they walked so slow. There must have been ten photographers scattered all over the road. There was construction everywhere, food deliveries. It was chaos. And those two are in the middle of it. It was surreal to see.

Ben knows how to play the game. He knows that people want pictures. He’s not going to run and avoid the pictures — at least not every day. He knows he’s got to feed the beast. So when he comes out, he does the slow-motion Paris Hilton walk so everybody can get all the angles. Sometimes he’ll say, “Is that good for today guys? Because I want the rest of the day to myself.” —Mark Karloff, working paparazzo and co-host of Paparazzi Podcast

“It’s like they’re kind of flaunting their relationship.”

Today, if Ben and J.Lo haven’t been photographed together in a week and there’s a gathering, a plethora of paps outside his house, he’ll give up some kind of photo to just take the heat off a little bit. He knows how it works. That old-school mentality is brilliant.

It seems like he’s doing the same kind of thing he was doing with Ana de Armas with J.Lo at the moment. You’ve seen the pictures of them house hunting, getting off private jets together. And again, it seems like the slow-motion, make-sure-everybody-gets-their-shot thing. It’s like they’re kind of flaunting their relationship.

Which is kind of funny because Jennifer Lopez, before she got back into this relationship with Ben, you’d rarely see a set of photos with her. Even when she was with A-Rod, she wasn’t giving it up to the amount that she is now. It was tough to get her and A-Rod together, and it was a big-money picture when it happened.

I don’t see this Bennifer relationship lasting. I don’t see it being marriage. I don’t see it even lasting into next year. I mean, it’s great for photographers because they’re making money off it. But it’s almost like they’re taunting. —Jedi, working paparazzo and co-host of Paparazzi Podcast

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The Story of Bennifer, Told by the Paparazzi Who Chase Them