An anonymous e-mail that was sent out to dozens of clubs and publications last week is causing quite a stir. Apparently somebody has it in for high-profile celebrity photographer Seth Browarnik and the way he treats his picture-taking peers. Whoever is behind the campaign prefers to "remain anonymous," hiding under the mysterious "photogs of South Beach."
SoBeHotShots@aol.com, an e-mail address that has since been deactivated, accuses Browarnik of "banning" and "embarrassing" his competition by having them "kicked out" of crobar, Mynt, and Prive. At stake is the right to shoot lucrative photos of the hundreds of celebrities partying inside some of South Beach's leading nightclubs. "Not only are we entitled to make a living and have a job to do like everyone else but we also provide worldwide free promotion for the venues in question," says the writer. "We all like Seth on a personal level but this type of behavior is simply wrong and unfair."
Browarnik, who shoots on assignment for Ocean Drive and WireImage.com, has established a national reputation for documenting famous and beautiful (preferably both) stars cavorting on South Beach. Truth is, he's first in line when it comes to the money shot -- big-time glitterati out and about town. Sometimes, however, nobody else is allowed in line at all but him, per agreement between him and the nightclub owner.
Though the writer claims that such exclusionary policies have other local photogs understandably peeved, representatives from Mynt and crobar are defending Browarnik against what they claim is a smear campaign by, in their words, "jealous paparazzi." They believe that the e-mail writer is mistaken by implying that no one but Browarnik, who also happens to be crobar's house photographer, is given access since media personnel who request credentials for events are always accommodated. They add that it's the owners and not him who are keeping independent contractors inspired by E!'s Celebrities Uncensored from infiltrating their establishments and harassing their most prized patrons.
"The thing is, Seth is friends with [numerous] celebrities. Many ask for him because he's earned their trust," says crobar marketing manager Paolo Pincente, citing as an example an incident that took place during the club's fourth-anniversary event last year. "Miss Universe [Amelia Vega] and her boyfriend Shalim were being mobbed by paparazzi on the way in and we didn't admit any of them," he recalls. "And when they saw that we let Seth in, they made him the bad guy."
So why is Browarnik the "anointed one" among his freelancing peers? "He asks before he shoots, like a gentleman," says crobar's Tommy Karas. "If they say no, he says, 'Fair enough.'" He also proclaims: "SoBeHotShots@aol.com is Michael Storms," adding that Storms tried to sell him pictures from that e-mail address.
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A DJ, sometime promoter, and one of South Beach's more interesting characters, Storms is known for his occasional hotheaded, though amusing, antics. Some may remember his attempts to sell his share of Nerve last August (via e-mail) after a falling out with the club's owners. In the past few months Storms has taken up photography, and celebrities are his favorite subjects. He admits to chasing down Britney Spears during one of her jaunts here last week. Recently, while Karas was escorting Sean "P. Diddy" Combs out of crobar, he says Storms burst out of the bushes by the Pizza Rustica next door for a closeup, executing a "drive-by shooting" of Diddy and almost smacking the rap mogul in the head. Says Karas, "He was two inches from P. Diddy's face!"
Empire Events' Perry Sasson also knows the wrath of Storms. Sasson was taken aback when he saw Storms storm out from behind a fence for an opportune shot of Jermaine Dupri exiting Nikki Beach. "He's crazy," says the promoter. "He scares away my clientele, he'll ruin my business. Now he's trying to ruin Seth's."
What does Storms have to say about these accusations? After a heated conversation in which he asked that New Times pretend he couldn't be reached, his only statement on the record was, "No comment." Though he's known to have sold pics to publications like Ego Trip, and admittedly hungers for a slice of the South Beach celebrity pie, he refuses to acknowledge any connection to the e-mail sent by the enigmatic leader of a group of self-proclaimed photogs who work for "magazines" and complain of an alleged Browarnik monopoly.
In the meantime Browarnik denies the accusations against him. "I've never barred the press or credible photographers from doing their jobs," he explains in his trademark raspy voice. "But paparazzi bother celebrities and then I can't do my job. And that's bullshit!"