Tell a celebrity and social scene photographer you think their photos didn’t capture their best side. Tell them you think they’re no good. Even tell them you weren’t at the club even if they have a photo of you doing a face plant outside the VIP rope.
But tell them they “photo-shopped” an image of you to place you at a scene you say you weren’t at? Hell hath no fury like a photographer with a treasure trove archive of over “5 million photos” and 21 years in the business on their résumé.
He will find five more photos of you and publish them in a rebuke on his company website.
That’s the scene playing out between Liberty University President and evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. and South Florida photographer Seth Browarnik, the founder of the Miami-based celebrity photo agency, World Red Eye.
Politico’s Falwell feature
The fallout started after Falwell Jr. was the subject of a lengthy, unflattering feature published Monday in Politico.
The article’s title — “’Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence” — was just one issue the son of the late Jerry Falwell Sr. had with the story that described “a culture of fear and self-dealing at the largest Christian college in the world.”
The article said that Falwell Jr. and his son Trey Falwell had flown from the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where Liberty is located, to “party” a Miami nightclub. The article says that multiple Liberty University officials said Falwell Jr. tried to make photos of the pair inside Miami Beach’ Wall nightclub “disappear.”
According to Politico, Falwell Jr. “denied the existence of any photo of him at the club.”
Politico quotes Falwell saying in an email to the article’s author Brandon Ambrosino: “There was no picture snapped of me at Wall nightclub or any other nightclub.”
Ambrosino writes that he told Falwell he had the picture. He wrote that Falwell replied: “If you show me the picture, I can probably help you out. I think you are making some incorrect assumptions, or have been told false things or are seeing something that was photo--shopped. ... I never asked anyone to get rid of any pictures on the internet of me and I never have seen the picture you claim is of me below. If the person in the picture is me, it was likely photo-shopped.”
Rebuke on World Red Eye
“If you want to say you weren’t there, fine. But going and saying I ‘photo-shopped?” Browarnik told the Herald on Tuesday, shortly after posting his rebuke.
“This is coming after my livelihood and reputation, which is pristine. I’ll do my research and prove my self-worth and prove we didn’t alter any photos and so we came across five to seven of them, pulled them up for the article, wide shots. We didn’t even know we had them.”
In the rebuke on the World Red Eye site, Browarnik writes: “We wholly reject Jerry Falwell Jr.’s baseless allegation in yesterday’s Politico report by Brandon Ambrosino that one of our pictures was ‘photo-shopped’ or manipulated in any fashion.
“We, in fact, did not know Politico’s purpose for licensing the image and were as surprised as anyone to discover that Mr. Falwell was among the partygoers we photographed on July 19, 2014, at Wall Lounge,” he wrote.
Then he published the photos.
Falwell’s Miami travels
Falwell’s Miami travels have made news for his partnership with a Fontainebleau pool attendant the university president and his wife met while on a beach vacation.
The attendant, Giancarlo Granda, was labeled a “pool boy” in a suit by one a former Granda high school friend, Miami-Dade County Commission aide Gordon Bello, who claims he had pitched Falwell the idea of buying a South Beach hostel. Falwell ended up bankrolling the 2013 purchase of the Alton Hostel in South Beach for $4.6 million, making Granda and son Trey Falwell partners in the business.
The photos Politico obtained from World Red Eye about two weeks ago, according to Browarnik, were captured by a World Red Eye photographer on July 19, 2014.
The images feature a colorful, lively dance floor filled with revelers. And among the scores of people grooving to the pounding beats Swedish DJ John Dahlbäck was spinning that night: purportedly Jerry Falwell Jr. and Trey.
A separate photo of Trey, with his wife Sarah, is also featured in the article and credited to Browarnik’s World Red Eye. Trey, wearing the same checkered button-down dress shirt seen in the dance floor pic, and his wife are wearing blue glow sticks as head apparel. Sarah has a large glass filled with some glowing green drink in her right hand —her left draped around her husband’s neck.
The men in the photo aren’t doing anything most anyone would deem inappropriate. The two, identified in the photo as the Falwells, are just two faces in the thick of the crowd on the dance floor.
Except that at the Christian conservative Liberty University, co-ed dancing can net a Liberty student demerits.
So if the president and his son are footloose on a dance floor at a South Beach club, well ...
Falwell did not respond to a request sent to Liberty University for comment. Trey Falwell’s Instagram account went private Tuesday.
“When Politco reached out to me two weeks ago I knew the story — Alfred Spellman and Billy Corben [fiilmmakers with Miami Beach’s rakontur] are my best friends,” Browarnik said, regarding the “pool boy” story that reported that Jerry Falwell Jr. went into a South Beach venture with a “pool boy.”
“But I didn’t even realize when I sold the photo it was Falwell and I was not thinking anything of it. They took a crowd shot and I didn’t know the father was in the photo,” Browarnik said. He added that after he and his team searched their archives, they turned up no request, written or emailed, to remove the photos that he says depict the Falwells.
“I didn’t think I’d be caught up in Politico. I try to stay quiet. Stay out of the drama. I like to be behind the scenes and let the photos speak for themselves. But in this case, the pictures tell a story and I needed to have some sort of rebuke.”
Miami Herald reporter Douglas Hanks contributed to this story.