Firooz Zahedi's life was changed by an unofficial photo assignment for a Hollywood legend.
In 1976, Zahedi, a scion of an Iranian political family, had passed up a diplomatic career to try to break into the world of freelance photography. At the time, his cousin, Ardeshir Zahedi, the Iranian ambassador to the United States, happened to be consorting with Elizabeth Taylor and introduced the actress to the young photographer. Subsequently, Taylor was invited on a goodwill visit to Iran and she insisted on taking Firooz Zahedi as a travel companion and photographer.
In Iran, Zahedi shot Taylor amid the ruins of Persepolis, outside the entrance of a mosque in Shiraz and draped in scarves found in Isfahan bazaars. At this point, the two-time Academy Award winner eschewed the conservative Yves Saint Laurent dresses she had worn to state dinners with the shah in favor of T-shirts, peasant blouses and flared jeans. Taylor presaged the trends of today by layering her bazaar finds and chadors over contemporary fashion pieces.
After the trip, Zahedi, who was the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Andy Warhol's Interview, told the artist about the snapshots taken with Taylor in Iran. Warhol decided to plan a cover story on Taylor for Interview around the photos. Not expecting compensation, the budding photographer received a check for $200 from the notoriously thrifty Warhol -- marking his first big professional break and the start of a successful career.
Since then, Zahedi, based in L.A. since 1978, has gone on to shoot celebrity covers for Vanity Fair, Time and InStyle. Most famously, he lensed the iconic poster for Pulp Fiction featuring Uma Thurman in a black bob, smoking a cigarette.
Zahedi’s photographs of Taylor on that trip are the subject of an exhibition, "Elizabeth Taylor in Iran," opening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Saturday and scheduled to run through June 12. He invited All the Rage to drink Persian tea at his modern-art festooned Wilshire Corridor condo while chatting about his upcoming show.
All the Rage: How did the show come about?
Zahedi: I was meeting with the curator of the Middle East department at LACMA. We’re trying to form a committee to raise money to buy contemporary Iranian art from contemporary Iranian artists based in Iran. She said, "I’m looking for some photos of Iran in the ’70s, prior to the revolution." I told her I had been there with Elizabeth Taylor [in 1976]. I sent her these photos. She said, "Let’s do a show."
This was pre-revolution, so there wasn’t a strict dress code?
Elizabeth Taylor had come to Washington with a few suitcases and found out that she was going to go to Iran and meet the shah and the empress. And she had no clothes. Saint Laurent had a boutique across from Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase. I went on her behalf and bought several conservative outfits for the trip like a blazer and some dresses.