Photographer Firooz Zahedi Talks New Exhibit; Instagram as Art (Q&A)

Firooz Zahedi

The celebrated photographer, known for his portraits of Bette Midler and Angelina Jolie, among others, spoke with THR about his new work at L.A.'s Kopeikin Gallery and his thoughts on Kimye being compared to Liz and Dick.

Famed celebrity shutterbug and Vanity Fair contributing photographer Firooz Zahedi, known for his portraits of A-listers such as Paul Newman, Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett and Bette Midler, will reveal a different side to his creative talent with a solo show at L.A.’s Kopeikin Gallery, opening on April 26.

The exhibition consists of new and existing collages and abstract photographs, highlighting the artist’s longtime interest in the fine arts. Quite the busy man, Zahedi is currently working on two forthcoming books -- one on his celebrity portraits and a second on photos of his close friend, the late Elizabeth Taylor, taken during their travels in Iran in the 1970s, photos that were the subject of a 2011 exhibition at LACMA.

Taking a few minutes out of his busy schedule, the artist talks to The Hollywood Reporter  about his new work, how to stay sane as an artist in Hollywood and who he follows on Instagram.

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The Hollywood Reporter: You’ve been a photographer for many years now, how did you get your start?

Firooz Zahedi: In 1975, I met [Andy] Warhol and in 1976 he made me Washington DC correspondent for Interview magazine. Then, I had the good fortune to meet Elizabeth Taylor. In 1978, I was deciding whether to stay in the States where I wasn’t making any money as a photographer or go to Iran [my home country], which had a happening art scene at the time. When I told Elizabeth she said ‘Before you go, come to LA, I’m doing a movie, come work on the set.’ That was very exciting to work on a film set, as a kid [film] was the biggest escape from my surroundings and the intensity of life. So, I came to Hollywood, one thing led to another, Vanity Fair gave me a contract and my whole life became portraits, movie stars, glamour, fashion, and all that. 

All the while, you were creating fine art as well, why do both?

I went to art school and even as a kid I loved art; I drew and I painted, photography was something I came to later on.  With movie star portraits, I had to deliver a certain image for the client: the magazine, the ad agency or whoever. Frankly, repeating yourself and making people beautiful and glamorous, it’s like working in a factory after a while. So, I started doing [art] for myself, that’s how kept myself sane in this crazy Hollywood atmosphere. I think there are no boundaries to what art is, I do what I do because it pleases me and hopefully others will like it too. It is selfish but I need to nourish my soul before others. It’s like when you are on a flight and the flight attendant says that in case of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop from above. Make sure you secure yours before securing it on others. So, if you can't breathe you can't help others to breathe.

Tell us about your new show?

This is the first fine arts show that is mostly abstract work. In 2000, I photographed Lucite cubes and years later starting playing around with them digitally, changing and enhancing colors. I created a new [Lucite box] series in 2009 and then revisited it again this year. [We’re showing] another series I’ve been wanting to do, which is taking my [existing] portraits of actresses in the very retro stylized tradition of film noir and putting quotes from various film noir across the images, the image of the actress then becomes secondary and atmospheric for the quote. I shot the Pulp Fiction poster so I used that.

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You’re quite active on Instagram, how do you feel about it as an art form?

I think it’s kind of fun and it’s instant. Sometimes I’ll find old photos of mine and I’ll snap them and post it with the date of when I shot it for nostalgia purposes, but not to impress anyone. You might find some gems on Instagram, but a lot of people put [pictures] of dinner, or their pets and kids, there’s a whole range depending on who you follow.

So who do you follow?

Gisela Getty, she does these amazing shots and fiddles with the filters. My stepson Carlton DeWoody does some funny stuff that I follow.

Having been a close friend of Elizabeth Taylor’s, is there a celebrity couple equivalent to Elizabeth and Richard Burton today?

No, I don’t think there’s a Liz and Dick couple today, you have some [Hollywood] royalty like Angelina [Jolie] and Brad [Pitt] but the Liz and Dick thing was unique. There was huge passion, marriage, divorce, marriage again, and jewels and diamonds!

We’ve heard people compare Kanye and Kim to Liz and Dick.

Please, please! No!

Kopeikin Gallery is located at 2766 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles.