Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston's very sudden and very public parade of love (from Rhode Island to Nashville to England to Italy) has raised eyebrows around the world, not even because of the fact that they're dating. She's an attractive celebrity; he's an attractive celebrity. She's due for a new album; he wants to be James Bond. Yeah, seems about right.
The unusual part is the way it's being presented. While Swift has had a slew of high-profile relationships, from Jake Gyllenhaal to her recent split with Calvin Harris, she's also one of the most image-savvy stars around.
Her public displays of affection are a relatively new phenomenon, which is why the Internet went ballistic two weeks ago when the Sun released photos of the couple making out on a rock in Rhode Island. Since then, the web has been flooded with pictures of Swift and Hiddleston kissing, cuddling and hand-holding all over the globe as they dance at a Selena Gomez concert, tour the Colosseum and meet each other's parents on the beach.
Are they really just that in love? It is at all pure publicity? Is it, as gossip blog Dlisted suggested, a "performance art piece and Taylor's artistic commentary on how her relationships are perceived by the media"?
One thing is certain: Celebrity photographers and photo agencies don't really care either way. For them, this whole Hiddleswift situation is a gold mine - especially when they arrive in small towns.
"If you've got someone like Taylor Swift who is literally parading along the beach where (Tom's) mum lives and is pretty much just giving it up for the photographers, that's kind of like a dream scenario, to be honest with you," said Dan Taylor, head of sales at photo agency Xposure. "It's nice because it's not so concentrated ... If it's in the center of the city, then you're going to have a lot more photographers working on it. Whereas if it's somewhere off the beaten track, then you have less competition and it's actually a little easier to make the job worthwhile financially."
As you can imagine, agencies have been enjoying the lucrative gathering of such in-demand photos. "It's a sensational story - the pictures are extraordinary," said Thibault Mauvilain, head of licensing at FameFlynet. "It feels really good, because it's been actually quite some time since there was such enthusiasm from the clients and the audience, as well."
"Enthusiasm" might be an understatement. The Swift-Hiddleston photos have been generating so much web traffic, he said, publications are fighting one another to get exclusive rights. Or clients are willing to pay big money to have the photos under embargo for, say, 72 hours, which means no one else can run them for that period of time. "We're seeing the numbers skyrocket," Mauvilain said.
The best part for photographers and agencies, besides the money? All the photos have been fairly simple to obtain. When Swift met Hiddleston's mother in the small seaside town of Ipswich, England, the couple didn't appear to mind that photographers were following them around on the beach.
"It's only as easy as (the celebrities) allow it to be," Ken Goff of Goff Photos said, explaining the challenges of photographing stars. "Because if they had gone there and stayed in the house and not come out, that's as hard as it can be. So really, whether it's in a small town or village or in a major city, it can be difficult anywhere or easy anywhere. It just depends on the subject and how much they don't want to be photographed."
Swift, like many stars, frequently has issues with the paparazzi; once, she hiked an entire trail backwards so photographers couldn't get a shot of her face. These days, however, she doesn't look fazed by photographers following her around as she takes intimate strolls on the beach with Hiddleston - and some industry veterans say that's unusual.
"She seems like she's very much wanting to parade her new man to the world, which is quite strange for her," Taylor said. "On a regular day, that's not really her personality as far as I know, or as far as I've seen."
Meanwhile, Hiddleston and Swift were last spotted at the Vatican on Wednesday. None of the agencies would confirm exactly how they find out where Hiddleswift will be next - the Image Direct, which first snapped the photos of the couple making out on the Rhode Island beach, declined to comment. ("To the naysayers I can confirm @TheSun's world exclusive pictures of Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston were NOT set up," tweeted The Sun's associate editor Dan Wootton.)
At this point, all the photographers and agencies can do is wait and see where the couple turn up - and hope their vacation never ends. "It's this sort of international tour stopping in Rhode Island going into Nashville and then coming out to the U.K. and then going over to Italy," Goff said. "You just wonder where the next stop is going to be."