At the age of 78, Douglas Kirkland is embarking on his grandest publishing project to date, a magnum opus that spans his illustrious career. With an archive more than a one million photographs, he is charged with the responsibility of creating the definitive tome of his life’s work. Though daunting by any stretch of the imagination, Kirkland has an incredible team that inspires, supports, and challenges him as an artist, an author, and a human being to go beyond his own understanding of what he has done and reflect upon it through a new lens, one that only the monograph can offer.
Set for publication this fall, Douglas Kirkland: A Life in Pictures is a labor of love, set into motion by Kirkland’s publisher Marta Hallett of Glitterati Incorporated. Working closely with Hallett, his wife Francoise, and book designer Sarah Karp, the team is pouring through the archives with a fine tooth comb, unearthing an array of photographs that are both art and archive, aesthetic and historical record, sequenced in a dynamic way that expands our understanding of Kirkland’s oeuvre. In addition to this, Kirkland shall be including an extensive text, a wonderful collection of memories, stories, and moments along the away, that when taken together like his countless photographs become so vast and expansive it is impressive to consider what a life dedicated to the art and craft of the photograph can create. And Kirkland is nothing if not generous in his understanding of all that goes into making everything about this possible.
He credits Hallett as the visionary, lauding her for her ability to discern the magnum opus as a treatise worthy of her energies. And Hallett notes the result. “I left the length of the book and the number of pictures to be included open. The process has been totally organic. They have complete freedom to curate the work, and it’s an autobiographical process.”
As the manuscript moves toward the finish line, Hallett and the Kirklands have come to rely on Sarah Karp, the book’s designer, who has been charged with creating a visual rhythm to the images. With the vast array of subjects at hand, Karp creates an inner dialogue between the images paired for aesthetics as well as provocation of a new conversation. A photograph of dead bird lying in ashes in the aftermath of the Mount Saint Helen volcano eruption beside a model spilled out in the mud in Tuscany for a fashion shoot. As photographer, Kirkland had not considered these images in dialogue but as author Kirkland sees the bigger picture.
As an artist who kept active throughout his career with an incredible array of commercial assignments that took him around the globe, documenting major world events as well as the word of cinema, Kirkland captured an extraordinary range of emotion and experience. He saw history in the making and with the camera, history was remade in its image. The photograph stands alone as much as it holds together. And it is the photographer who stands in the eye of the storm, always the still point as the shutter snaps instantly.
Hallett understands Kirkland’s genius having sat for him herself. As a surprise on a visit to compile the artwork for the book, Douglas and his partner/wife, Francoise, has arranged a professional-style photo shoot for Hallett, complete with hair and make up.
“I hate having my photograph taken, but could not possibly run from this generous gesture on the part of Francoise and Douglas, so decided I’d buck up and figure out how to go with the flow,” says Hallett. “And what I learned was that I had to ‘let go’ of myself. Douglas made it so easy, so comfortable to do that. And I realized his genius: he doesn’t direct, he doesn’t instruct, he just lets the subject be totally comfortable and when those moments come, he knows them, engages, and click, shoots them. And wonderfully, I was now a Douglas Kirkland subject, having only heard from other subjects over the years the accolades about how they only wanted to be shot by Douglas, or that Douglas was the best photo shoot they had ever experienced. His own calm, generosity of space and time, demeanor, all feed into letting the subject be the subject and he connects without intervening.
“But the thing is: This is how he is in life! Everyone loves Douglas because he is an intense, deep and warm human being who really experiences every event and interaction with total awe and excitement—as though it’s the first time for everything. That inspires everyone around him to take on the same joie d vivre, and join in the fun.
“As a result of my experience, I now can be photographed any time, anywhere, without a moment of concern. He and Francoise have changed my life in many ways—and this is just one of them.”