LA Mag’s Billie Eilish Cover Shoot Shrouded in Drama

A feud that unfolded behind the scenes of a glitzy Los Angeles magazine cover story starring pop icon Billie Eilish left one photographer so aggrieved that he pulled his name from the finished product and ended his working relationship with the magazine altogether.

A source familiar with the photoshoot told The Daily Beast that the photographer, Shayan Asgharnia, wanted his name removed after the magazine gave final approval over the photographs to Eilish’s team during the session. Editor-in-chief Shirley Halperin confirmed in emails to The Daily Beast that Asgharnia did, indeed, ask for his credit to be scrapped from the December shoot as it went to press, but she said she did not know why.

Halperin said the magazine “worked closely” with Eilish and her team for the shoot “as is standard with major talent,” but she denied Eilish or her team had cover approval or creative control. A representative for Eilish also characterized the magazine cover shoot as a “unique collaboration” and a “collaborative affair,” but they said they did not get “final approval.”

Asgharnia’s name does not appear anywhere on the magazine’s digital version of the cover story, which was published last November. The magazine’s print edition of the shoot lists the photographer as “Pixel Pusher,” while Asgharnia is listed as the photographer on the website for the shoot’s set designer. (An online search for a photographer named “Pixel Pusher” produced a Facebook page for a “Pixel Pusher Photography” based in Meridian, Mississippi).

The magazine’s decision to give Eilish’s team final approval without a prior consultation irked Asgharnia, according to the source.

The cover story centered around Eilish’s plans to open a plant-based restaurant in a Los Angeles neighborhood and the run-up to the 2024 Oscars, where she was expected to be nominated—and win—for her Barbie tune “What Was I Made For?” According to the source familiar with the shoot, during the actual cover session, Eilish’s publicist tried to take control of the artistic direction of the shoot before eventually demanding approval over the final photos.

Such a request is uncommon in the industry, and a photographer who worked for the magazine’s previous editor, Maer Roshan, told The Daily Beast that such a practice wouldn’t have occurred under his tenure.

The photog flare-up came after a series of personnel issues at the outlet since Halperin took over as editor-in-chief last year, following tenures at Billboard and Variety. The Daily Beast previously reported on Los Angeles taking months to pay freelancers following its purchase by Mark Geragos and Ben Meiselas last year.

Akili Ramsess, the executive director for the National Press Photographers Association, told The Daily Beast that the incident constitutes a breach of industry standards. If a magazine were to accept such a request from a publicist, it should be done before the shoot—and the photographer would have to be included in such discussions.

Otherwise, it would risk violating journalistic ethics, Ramsess said.

“You hire a specific photographer for the specific type of talent and skills that you’ve observed from previous assignments that you’ve had with them,” she explained. “So it breaks the relationship also to the photographer in the magazine.”

Asgharnia has worked on hundreds of photoshoots for brand deals, individuals, and magazines, including The New York Times Style Magazine, Texas Weekly, Ebony—and Los Angeles magazine. His name was on the website’s masthead as recently as October, according to an archived version of the website, though it was removed the month of the shoot.

It’s unclear whether the magazine plans to amend its policy on photo approval—or continue employing “Pixel Pusher”-like names where needed.