Earlier this month, at the Los Angeles premiere of Hulu’s The Kardashians, something strange happened. Well, several strange things happened, but the strangest was that Kylie Jenner, the youngest “self-made” billionaire in the family, seemingly attended the event without appearing in any of the official red-carpet photos. Kim, Kourtney, Khloé, and momager Kris all posed for Getty photographers as they walked into the premiere, but Kylie did not show up in any of those photos. Instead, she separately posed for a few red carpet photos by a paparazzo who goes by the initials SPW. She also posed for photos in her all-white look before the event for a celebrity photographer named Blair Caldwell, who often shoots Beyoncé’s Instagram content. All of Kylie’s shots are airbrushed to perfection and unlike anything that would appear in a normal Getty photo roundup from a regular old premiere. The effect was so uncanny that some fans theorized that she did not attend the event at all, and instead photoshopped herself onto the red carpet from the privacy and comfort of her own $36 million dollar home.
Based on this grainy TMZ shot from outside the event, it seems that Kylie did, in fact, show up in person to the premiere. But she did not walk the red carpet like the rest of her sisters and instead likely worked with these two private photographers to create the images of herself she wanted to see in the world. According to Giles Harrison, a celebrity photographer and paparazzo who owns London Entertainment Group, this kind of image manipulation is extremely common among A-list celebrities and the Kardashian family, specifically.
“The entire family does it,” he said, noting that Kim has worked directly with different paparazzi since she was first trying to land tabloid covers in the mid-aughts. “They want control over the images, and if you put it out through Getty, you have limited control. If you get a paparazzi that you have a relationship with to do it, then you have better control.”
“Control” in this case means that the photographer will send the raw images to the celebrity before selling them, so that the star and their team can pick the best shots and photoshop them until their hearts are content. Harrison said Kim, Khloé, Kendall and Kylie all work these kinds of deals on a regular basis, so it’s unclear why they didn’t all agree to use one photographer at the premiere. (He noted that Kourtney doesn’t contract her own paparazzi “as much” as her sisters.) The photographer SPW did post a couple photos of Khloé from The Kardashians premiere, but she also appeared in the official Getty photos. The differences between the images are stark: in the Getty photos, Khloé wears her sunglasses, and in the SPW photos, she takes them off and turns the lighting up to 100. “You don't want to look bad,” Harrison said of the motivation to work with paparazzi directly. “You want to look shapely. You don't want to look like a human being, you want to look like a product.”
Paparazzi still get candid shots of the Kardashians occasionally, he said, but we can assume that anything shot at close range with good lighting has probably been manipulated in some way. The same goes for other celebrities, like Rihanna, who seems to only appear in photoshoot-like paparazzi shots lately. Her perfectly lit pregnancy-reveal photos were taken by Miles Diggs, the same paparazzo who captures most of her “candid” street-style photos. Diggs has been open about the fact that he talks to some celebrities directly about setting up shoots.
Getty Images is, perhaps, the only uncorrupted source of celebrity photos left. The last time Kylie appeared in a red-carpet photo published by the service was last June. (She attended the 72nd Annual Parsons Benefit with her boyfriend Travis Scott and their daughter Stormi.) Perhaps now she has realized that she never needs to do that kind of thing again.