Rooms, hallways, closets, rugs, shoe boxes, scents, clothing: what does any of it mean when the body that has helped shape such a world – has given it value – dies, disappears? Those rooms and objects become totems to aura, and that is precisely what the renowned photographer, Catherine Opie, has captured in her images of Taylor’s last home: they are images about aura. And the ripple effect of time.
Catherine Opie first drove up to 700 Nimes Road, nestled in the canyons of Bel Air, in November 2010. Her mission was to create a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor through her home and belongings. Unlike many of the surrounding grand homes, Elizabeth Taylor’s house was elegant but simple: a California Ranch-style house with pale blue and lavender carpets, a beautiful English-style garden and a shimmering turquoise swimming pool.
There were shining, oversized ornaments in the branches of the large trees outside which sparkled and spun in the breeze. When Catherine began shooting pictures for the book, Elizabeth was in ailing health and spent most of her time in her upstairs suite, until mid-project when she was hospitalised. Sadly Taylor passed away on 23 March 2011, without the two having had the chance to meet.
Catherine Opie was given free reign to explore Elizabeth’s closets which she described as “exuding an ultimate femininity’ and sometimes the photographer would put her scruffy tennis shoe next to a Chanel pump and shake her head in awe.
3,000 images were taken over the course of six months. Most of the images are still life exactly as Elizabeth left them. Although photographs of her jewels had to be staged in her absence.
We see her dressing room, the basin where she would wash her hair every day, her abundant bag and shoe collection, dresses and shirts neatly grouped together in a gradient of colours, and of course the jewellery closet. But none of these glimpses into a private world are ever prying; Opie has managed to shoot these pictures in such a quiet, respectful way, gently documenting the remnants of an extraordinary life.
Taylor would often suffer from insomnia and on these nights, she would co-ordinate outfits on racks in her shoe closet and artfully arrange Bulgari, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels gems. Alongside the famous jewels, there are also a great number of small trinkets displayed on shelves in her bedroom; she especially loved to display these items because she was so appreciative of the time and care it took friends and family to choose something special for a woman who already had so much.
Elizabeth’s legendary jewels were captured on the final day of shooting. One of the last images made, is of the jewellery in a paper bag the day Christies packed everything up for auction. Opie said that on this day, the team put the jewels out in the sun so that they could dazzle, marking a moment of silence for Elizabeth’s beloved and monumental collections.
700 Nimes Road by Catherine Opie is published by Prestel.
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Images by Catherine Opie.