Like hundreds of fans lining the red carpet at the Screen Actors Guild Awards this past weekend, Karalee Miller was determined to memorialize a celebrity moment. From behind the velvet ropes, the 35-year-old Burbank woman screamed and screamed for actor Bradley Cooper‘s attention.
When the actor finally approached her, she drew out her trusty point-and-shoot camera and at arm’s length snapped a strained cheek-to-cheek photo with Cooper. It was just the beginning of an evening of such pictures for countless other fans and performers.
“A photo is proof that I was near the people that, before this, only existed on my TV screen or in the movies,” said Miller, who earlier had managed to snag a shot with actor Bryan Cranston. “A photo can show a smile or an outfit to your friends; a signature can’t.”
The time-honored scrawl that once was the gold standard artifact of a brush with greatness has lost some of its glow in the age of social media. Taking a photo of oneself for Web posting has become so popular that it has added a new word to the lexicon — “selfie.”
And a selfie with an A-lister is among the most prized postings of all.
A photo with a famous person, said Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, an associate professor at USC and author of “Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity, “supports the larger belief that we are just like them because we are standing right next to them.”
Indeed, celebrities, whether at a restaurant or on the red carpet, report they are spending far more time posing awkwardly close with fans than scratching off their names. The shift has left some longing for simpler days.
“I would actually prefer signing more autographs,” said Zooey Deschanel, star of Fox’s comedy “That’s not to say I don’t like interacting with fans, but I want the freedom to go about my day without having to worry, ‘Gosh, maybe I shouldn’t wear this sweater because someone will see it on someone’s Facebook wall.”
For the younger generation, asking for an autograph often isn’t even a consideration. Eddie Bautista, 21, of Montebello, had a chance encounter with Jaime Foxx and didn’t bother to ask for the star’s John Hancock.
“It was almost a reflex to ask for a photo when he walked by,” said Bautista, who posted his photo with Foxx on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. “Nowadays, friends don’t care about a scribble-scrabble. They think you did it yourself.”
Sometimes, celebrities even get in on the action. During a recent Times interview, “Hunger Games” and “Silver Linings Playbook” star Jennifer Lawrence couldn’t help showing off a photo she took with Lionel Richie.
An extreme example of the photo-seeking fan is the 17-year-old Toluca Lake teenager known on the Web only as Sarah M., who explained she doesn’t reveal her last name for fear of online predators. Affectionately known as “Stalker Sarah,” the teenager has amassed more than 6,000 photos with Hollywood stars including Oprah, Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt and Miley Cyrus — that she posts to her Flickr account and tweets out to her nearly 65,000 followers.
“Autographs never really meant anything to me,” she said. With a photo, “you see how stars are real people.”
“People want to show all their friends, ‘Hey, I’m chilling with my girl, NeNe!’” she said. “It’s cute and I like it, but they got me looking ridiculous sometimes.”
Between the shift in celebrity culture and the ease of Web technology, postable photos are squeezing out the importance of an autograph.
“Our celebrities today seem to be much more accessible than previous celebrities,” said Richard Austin, who researches the value of signed items for Sotheby’s in New York. “You can get a picture of Scarlett Johansson when you’re at a club. It used to be that people would commemorate their experiences meeting a celebrity by getting them to sign something.”
But it’s not as if signing autographs is a completely lost art among celebrities. Plenty of autograph hounds, clutching 8-by-10 glossy photos, still seek a star’s squiggly signature, usually for profit.