Everybody knows this, but nobody knows it quite as intimately as the photographer and filmmaker Afshin Shahidi: He was Prince's personal photographer. The partnership began in 1993, when the young photographer was invited to be a loader for a music video at Prince's Paisley Park. "I was in awe and just stood there and stared at him even though they had told me several times, whatever you do, don't stare at Prince," Shahidi recalls. Prince struck up a conversation with Shahidi, who began working regularly for the superstar, eventually landing a gig as his cinematographer. In 2001, he became Prince's personal photographer, traveling the globe with the musician and capturing his image in public and private for thousands of fans.
Shahidi's photos of the late star are captured in an immense new book, Prince: A Private View, which spans a decade of Prince's career. (The photos of the musician below are taken from the book.) We asked Shahidi to share his six favorite Prince stories. He gladly obliged.
1. Prince was great at email—but his love of acronyms could cause confusion.
In 2001, Prince began regularly communicating with Shahidi via email. "I was somewhat new to email," the photographer recalls. "I didn't know all the different acronyms and stuff. I didn't know that LOL meant 'laugh out loud.' After a certain number of emails where he had said 'LOL,' and I had said 'LOL' back, I went to my wife and was like, 'Isn't it sweet that Prince keeps emailing me and he finishes his emails with "lots of love"?' She just started shaking her head like, That's not what it means. It means 'laugh out loud!' I started thinking back at all the emails I'd sent him where I had written 'LOL,' like where I told him what it would cost to do something.
"I told him [about the misunderstanding] a couple of years later. He cracked up and started shaking his head."
So...what were Prince's emails like? "The way that you expected him to write was the way he would write," Shahidi says. "The number 2 or the number 4 replaced the words. He somehow had gotten an eye—like a picture of an eye—that was in his keyboard. He was able to use that instead of the letter I. [He would write] 'I will C U' with a U versus a you. He was witty and funny, even on email, but he was more to the point."
2. Even Prince needs a passport photo sometimes.
One day Prince called Shahidi (using someone else's phone—the star refused to own a cellphone) and summoned the photographer to his studio.
"I imagined we were gonna talk about some photo shoot he wanted to do for a tour book or a magazine cover," Shahidi says. "I walked into the studio. He had just gotten done playing and was kind of hyped up, had a lot of energy. He came to me and he said, 'Afshin, I need a passport photo.' I looked at him like, 'Are you messing with me?' He liked to joke around. It was not beyond him to do a practical joke on me. Thinking that he's still joking, I offered to take him to Kinko's to get the passport photo. The look he gave me, I realized he wasn't joking at all. So I agreed to do it.
"I went back to his house and started looking up what the specs are for a passport photo. I hadn't done them before. Then he got there and showered and changed, and he came down looking magnificent—looking like he was ready to go to the Met Gala or something. I wasn't sure what to say to him. It seemed a little over-the-top for a passport photo, and I didn't want it to get rejected. It just seemed, like, Wow. First I said, 'You look fantastic, but I think they want these passport photos to be the most pedestrian, simple photos that just show your face and don't distract from who you are. I think you look great, but I would, like, dress down a little bit.' He looked at me like, 'Are you serious?' I'm like, 'I don't want your image to be rejected and delay the passport.'" Prince sheepishly responded with: "Did I overdo it?"
"He went and changed and the second he left, I'm thinking to myself: Did I really ask Prince to change his clothes? Sure enough, he came back and had mussed his hair up a little bit so it wasn't the well-coiffed hair and silky top he had shown up in." (Note: Prince's actual passport photo can be viewed here.)
3. The time Prince went to church in Tokyo.
Prince would frequently invite Shahidi to travel across the globe on short notice. "We'd make a little bit of small talk and then he'd say, 'Can you come to Panama tomorrow? Can you come to Morocco tomorrow?' There were no obstacles."
Once, Prince took Shahidi along to northern Japan for some shows. Prince had a few days off between gigs, so he invited the photographer to Tokyo. "Prince and I and his bodyguard took the bullet train from Sendai to Tokyo. We went to the Blue Note [jazz venue] and saw Chick Corea play. Around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, as we're making our way back to the hotel, he asks me, 'Hey, will you get up early tomorrow and dress up? I want to go somewhere.' I'm like: 'Sure, where?' He's like, 'Just come down and be ready at 7:00.'
"I got a couple hours of sleep, put a suit on, went down and the limo took us to this nondescript neighborhood in Tokyo. We walked into this building, and it was a church. So I sat in church with Prince in Tokyo amongst a bunch of Japanese people who didn't pay us much mind at all. I didn't understand a single word that was being said in the service. I'm just sitting there thinking, this has got to be the most surreal moment I've ever experienced, sitting in church with Prince in Tokyo."
4. Pool me, baby.
"Prince was a phenomenal pool player," Shahidi says. "I didn't know that. We were at a club—I think it was in Chicago—after he had played a big show. There was a pool table. He was like, 'Do you want to play?' I had played pool throughout college. I thought I was pretty good. I said, 'Sure.' I thought to myself, 'I won't beat him too bad. Maybe I should let him win a couple because it wouldn't be cool if I beat the boss.' But he proceeded to basically clean the table two times in a row before I even had a chance to shoot. When I did finally have a chance, he beat the pants off me. He was that good. And he was cocky about it, too. He reminded me a little bit of the Tom Cruise character in The Color of Money, where he would put the balls in and strut around the table. He knew he was good, and he was not shy to show it."
5. Prince the business genius.
Prince had a "very savvy business mind," Shahidi says. "There was a time when I was taking his images and giving them to places like the AP or wire images to be serviced. I wasn't trying to make money off those images. I was taking them for Prince, and we wanted them to be out there for publicity, whether it was for an album or for his shows. At one point Prince said to me—not because he wanted the money, but he was trying to teach me something about business—he said, 'Why are you giving all these images away?' I'm like, 'I'm doing it for your publicity. This is how it's done. People go to wire images to find pictures to put in the magazine or whatever.' He said, 'No. I'm Prince. People will come to you for my images.' So I set up a site, and whatever city we went to, somehow the local media would know and email me to access images from the shows.
"I felt a great deal of responsibility as his photographer. He didn't allow anyone else to photograph him. He would do a live show, like during the Musicology tour in 2004, in a 35,000-seat arena, and he wouldn't allow a single camera in there. I was the only one with a camera. I felt a responsibility of capturing his performance for the world to see, because there was no one else there."
6. Prince woke up like this.
Shahidi always smiles when he remembers the time Prince summoned him to Paisley Park early one morning. "When I got there at 10 in the morning—which was much earlier than typical, but he said to come at 10—I went to the side door, expecting one of the engineers to open the door to let me in. I rang the bell and no one came. I rang it again. The door opened, and it was Prince. He had clearly just woken up. He had a do-rag on and some house shoes. The light was bothering his eyes. I stood there and I smiled and chuckled a little bit. He was somewhat annoyed: 'What's so funny?' I said, 'In a million years, I never expected you to be opening the door to let me in. I think it's humorous.' He kinda got the humor there too and said: 'Well, don't get used to it.'
"The next few times I came to Paisley, he would be the one that opened the door for me. Each time he would say, 'Don't get used to it.'"