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    Prince photographer shares his intimate trove in book

    This image of Prince from his “Musicology” tour in 2004 is among 250 photos by Afshin Shahidi in the book “Prince: A Private View.”
    ST. MARTIN’S PRESS, LLC/AFSHIN SHAHIDI
    This image of Prince from his “Musicology” tour in 2004 is among 250 photos by Afshin Shahidi in the book “Prince: A Private View.”

    NEW YORK — No assistants. No wardrobe or makeup people. No lighting technicians.

    That’s how Afshin Shahidi spent his most cherished moments with Prince over nearly a decade as his go-to photographer, and he included many of their more intimate encounters among 250 photos in his recent book, ‘‘Prince: A Private View.’’

    Shahidi, also known as ‘‘black-ish’’ and ‘‘grown-ish’’ actress Yara Shahidi’s dad, is a Minnesota son like the superstar. He sheds light only he could provide on Prince, who died in 2016 of an accidental drug overdose.

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    There was the time Prince made him tea after a photo session and the two sat and talked about Rembrandt. There was a goofy side, too, with Prince clowning in an empty airport hallway, then clicking into his trademark deadpan when outsiders materialized.

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    While much of Shahidi’s work captured Prince onstage or was intended for official use in tour books or fodder for his fans, it’s the quieter times that sustain the 48-year-old Shahidi, he said in an interview.

    An after-hours photo of Prince from the book “Prince: A Private View.”
    ST. MARTIN’S PRESS, LLC/AFSHIN SHAHIDI
    An after-hours photo of Prince from the book “Prince: A Private View.”

    Q. You grew up in Minneapolis and were still a kid when Prince hit it big. What was running through your mind when you first met him in person?

    St. Martin's Press, LLC
    Photographer Afshin Shahidi

    A. I was in junior high and high school when I became aware of Prince, and he was a big departure from the kind of music that I was listening to and the things I was into. He was this gender-bending phenom who could play all these instruments. I was always a fan but I wasn’t a hardcore fan who would go to every show and knew every fact, so I jumped at the opportunity to meet him in ’93.

    I was starstruck. It was the era when he had ‘‘slave’’ written across his face, and everything about him was mysterious and amazing to me. I had moved back to Minneapolis after finishing college and I was trying to get into the film business. I was 23 and got a page asking for a film loader to work on a music video, and they wouldn’t say who it was for. I didn’t know how to load film but I thought I had a few days to learn, so I said, yeah, I can do it and then they said, well we need you right now and it’s in Chanhassen. That’s where Paisley Park is, so I knew it had to be for Prince. I said, OK, I’m on my way.

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    Q. Did you and Prince talk about you doing this book?

    A. I had done two books with him prior to this and we had discussed a third. We did not discuss this book in particular, and quite honestly it took me months to be able to even look at any of the images that I had. They brought back a lot of memories that I wasn’t ready for.

    After he passed, a lot of fans had started reaching out asking if there was anything I was going to do, so I toyed with the idea. Once I could finally start looking at the pictures I started putting something together. It felt very therapeutic for me. I felt like it would be selfish to keep them to myself. I have thousands of images.

    Q. Why did you stop working for Prince, and what did you do during those early years?

    A. I started in the capacity of a technician and slowly made my way up to being a cinematographer, photographer, and more of a creative collaborator. The last time I photographed him was in 2011. We continued to stay in touch and he would call occasionally to see if I was available. A big part of stopping was my family and just keeping the schedule that was necessary to keep up with Prince, to travel internationally at a moment’s notice and all the late nights and that sort of thing.

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    The other part is that Prince also didn’t need as many images of himself as he did when I first started working with him because a lot of the images were being used for his online music club, which was a subscription-based thing — and he was one of the first artists to do that — so once he dismantled the music club, the need to constantly update diminished.

    ‘It felt very therapeutic for me. I felt like it would be selfish to keep them to myself. I have thousands of images.’

    Q. Was it difficult to gain his trust?

    A. It was a very organic process. We built a mutual trust. He was very guarded and he was also very guarded with his image. To break through that and to then be able to capture a more authentic, less-posed Prince, where I could be in a room with him and he’s not on for the camera was pretty special, and it took a little bit of time. Being on the road with someone for months at a time, you decide you really like someone a lot or you don’t like them at all.

    Q. He kept a photo of Yara on his desk at Paisley Park.

    A. I didn’t really know about it until after he had passed and somebody messaged me about it. It still brings tears.

    Q. How did you steal all those unguarded moments?

    A. I tried to blend in. It was important for me to try and capture those. We would just be hanging out and I would pick up my camera and shoot. I think he enjoyed looking at them.

    Prince relaxing after a soundcheck in Hollywood, from “Prince: A Private View.”
    St. Martin's Press, LLC/Afshin Shahidi
    Prince relaxing after a soundcheck in Hollywood, from “Prince: A Private View.”

    Q. What do you think Prince got out of your friendship, not only with you but your wife and kids?

    A. I think normalcy. We were just a normal Minnesota family. He enjoyed children. He liked their energy and creativity. That would put a smile on his face.

    There’s a lot that still makes me sad about his passing. He’s one of the first friends that I’ve lost. He exercised regularly, he ate healthy. I never saw him abuse anything, not even alcohol. To me it was a big shock. I had hopes that Prince would honor me by coming to my funeral, not the other way around.