April/May Issue of 1530 Main: A Life on Camera

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A Life On Camera
Elizabeth Taylor doesn't appear in a single frame of Catherine Opie's epic portrait series 700 Nimes Road—But she's actually in all of them.

By Margaux Anbouba

The Elizabeth Taylor made famous by countless movie screens, magazines, and paparazzi shots is nowhere to be seen in 700 Nimes Road. Instead, fine-art photographer Catherine Opie has metaphorically painted a portrait of the late actress and activist through her home and personal belongings.

Named after Taylor’s final Bel Air address, the series opens a window on her private world—the legendary jewelry, of course, but also her shoe closet, shag-carpeted living room, and unexpected collections of scholar rocks and crystals.

“I am a photographer who has always been interested in the notion of bearing witness,” Opie says. “So when it came to this project, I wanted to record the things Elizabeth really loved and chose to surround herself with. These images are an extended portrait of who she was at the end of her life.”

Opie, known for her abstract landscapes and portraiture (you may remember her Inauguration work from Barack Obama’s 2009 swearing in), was connected to Taylor through a common friend, their accountant. She spent six months taking 3,000 images for the project. Midway through shooting, Taylor died of congestive heart failure at age 79.

“I had to grapple with the fact that Elizabeth passed away right in the middle of me trying to take this abstract portrait of her,” Opie says. “In hindsight, I think she understood that her time in this world was short, and that’s why she agreed to the project. She appreciated that a woman artist was trying to be thoughtful and create a unique portrait of her.”

The exhibition debuted in 2015 at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art with an accompanying monograph by the late Ingrid Sischy. Now 50 images from 700 Nimes Road have found an unexpected yet appropriate home in Dallas—inside downtown fashion mecca Forty Five Ten. The store’s co-founder and president, Brian Bolke, was introduced to the series by art curator John Runyon in late 2015. They were the first pieces purchased for the store’s new flagship.

“I like to think of Elizabeth Taylor as my spirit animal. She was funny but smart, glamorous but humble, compassionate but tough, and without a doubt, in love with love,” says Bolke. “Catherine’s series captures her essence without an actual portrait of her. I feel I know her better through these photos.”

The suite is organized thematically throughout the store’s four floors. Images of Taylor’s gems adorn the walls of Fine Jewelry. The memorable “Fang and Chanel,” one of Bolke’s favorites, hangs in the Shoe Salon.

“What’s more glamorous?” he says. “Elizabeth’s beautiful cat? Or the fact that she has three pairs of the exact same Chanel shoe?”

Taking in the body of work, Taylor’s absence from the images ultimately speaks louder than her presence. It’s a touching and ghostly portrait not of a movie star, but rather, in Sischy’s words, a “deliciously regular” human.