Photographer Afshin Shahidi Told Us Everything We Wanted To Know About Prince
From 1989 until his untimely passing in 2016, Prince and cinematographer Afshin Shahidi had a relationship that could only be described as magical.
Initially working on the set of a video, the Iranian talent went from crew member to the personal photographer for Prince for over a decade.
In his new book Prince: A Private View, Shahidi —whose daughter Yara was an ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood honoree— opens up about working with the iconic musician who forever changed his career trajectory and became a close friend, business partner and confidant.
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ESSENCE: On why he chose Beyoncé to write the book’s forward.
Afshin Shahidi: That’s the obvious part. I feel like a lot of the people that knew Prince the way I did have a very similar story to what I had. So I wanted a different perspective from someone that I know admired Prince and someone that I know Prince admired. I also felt like, if I was making this book with Prince and I suggested Beyoncé to do the forward, he would have picked up the phone and made the call himself. I know he would have been happy about it and he had a respect for her artistry and for her work ethic and I know he admired her and I know the feeling’s mutual.
ESSENCE: On Prince being intimidating.
Afshin Shahidi: I became a photographer, not before I started working with Prince, but after I started working with him as a photographer. Same way with being a cinematographer. We collaborated. He had been in front of the camera for 20 years at that point and knew angles, knew lighting, knew his poses. And so he really helped me develop my craft and my art. So the intimidation kind of went away, but the awe never did. I was always kind of in awe of the position that I was in and the opportunity that I had.
ESSENCE: On how Prince evolved as a person during the time they worked together.
Afshin Shahidi: I met him when he was still a relatively young artist and he was going through a phase where he was fighting with his label. He wore “Slave” written across his face, he came off as aloof and we we’re instructed not to look at him or not to make eye contact. And then he went from there to changing his name to a symbol. So there was a lot of things he was going through and experimenting with, and then I feel like I saw him mature from someone that still was fighting against the system, but now he was fighting in a different way, in a more mature manner.
ESSENCE: On if Prince was aware of his icon status.
Afshin Shahidi: I think he was aware. He was very aware of his standing in the world. But he genuinely was appreciative and flattered when he was out and his fans showed up and showed him the love that they did. He never took it for granted. He never looked at ’em like, “I expect you to do this.” Prince had a cocky side, for sure, cause he knew he was a bad ass musician. That was undeniable. He didn’t mind showing that, lettin’ people know how fantastic of a musician he was. But I don’t know if he fully felt comfortable with that icon status, all the attention that he got.
ESSENCE: On a little known story that’s classic Prince.
Afshin Shahidi: There was a meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel and I think at like 1 in the morning and it was Prince and the two record execs from Warner Brothers —the ones who had fined him and that he had later had the big dispute and the lawsuit against. It was a meeting for the first time years after the dispute and he was playing an album for them. I loved it because he was like, “Afshin, come in here and listen and watch.” So I got to be in that room with them. And Prince, he put the album on, he went and grabbed a box of tissues like Kleenex, and went and held it for the two executives like, “This is gonna make you cry.” It was not an intimidating thing, it was just a very Prince being cocky and knowing how good that he was thing.
ESSENCE: On how those infamous Prince parties started.
Afshin Shahidi: I think the first set of parties that happened, happened just very organically. He had come out to L.A. in the winter when it was cold in Minneapolis. So it made sense for him to be there. And he had rented this beautiful house. And I think he was recording as well at the time and that’s part of the reason why he was there, just to be in better weather. We were actually filming this movie 3121. And we had a party scene. And he decided, “Let’s throw a party and you guys can film it and we’ll have a party and we’ll do a party scene.” And from that first party —that kind of made up party— he ended up having so much fun. He had his band set up and instruments set up and he started playing and some other people started playing and it became a jam session. It was just so much fun for him and he’s an introvert, but he’s not when he has a instrument.
ESSENCE: On Prince being incredibly woke.
Afshin Shahidi: He was very woke. But he was very verbal in his insight and his criticism of what was happening and he had his ideas about how to fix it. For the ones that were lucky enough to be able to spend time with him and to talk to him, he preached his mind and his opinions and really one of the saddest things, for me him being gone is immensely painful. But I really feel like in today’s political climate he would have been a really important voice and he would have been really outspoken, more so than he had been in the past about what’s happening in this country.
The New York Times-bestselling book “Prince: A Private View” is available in all major retail book stores now.