Douglas Kirkland was born in Canada and lives in the Hollywood Hills with his wife and business partner, Francoise. He is a legendary photographer, with a long and illustrious career spanning over six decades.
He joined Look Magazine in his early twenties, followed by Life Magazine during the 60’s/70’s shooting photojournalism. It was the Look magazine assignment photographing Marilyn Monroe ( just a year before her death), that is the most well– known. He has captured the famous inclusive of Hollywood’s elite; Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, Jack Nicholson, Michael Jackson, Andy Warhol, and Audrey Hepburn to name a few.
Through the years, Douglas Kirkland has worked on the sets of over one hundred motion pictures. He is represented in the world’s finest art collections and archives: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; The Smithsonian Institution; The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, Australia; The National Portrait Gallery in London; The Eastman House in Rochester; The Houston Center for Photography; the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles; and a retrospective exhibition of his work was at the Museum of the Triennale in Milan, Italy.
His Book Publications include: Light Years (1989), Icons (1993), Legends (1999), Body Stories (1998), Freeze Frame (2007), An Evening With Marilyn (2002), Coco Chanel: Three Weeks (2008), the New York Times #1 best-selling James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), With Marilyn (2012), the career monograph, Douglas Kirkland – A Life in Pictures, (2013). His black and white volume When We Were Young (2014). Freeze Frame: Second Cut (2017) and Physical Poetry Alphabet (2018).
Awards include: A “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the American ( S.O.C); a Lucie Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment Photography from the IPA (2003); The Golden Eye of Russia (2009); The American Society of Cinematographers ASC presented him with the prestigious President’s Award (2011); the Nastri D’Argento (Silver Ribbon) at the International Taormina Film Festival; the Canadian Consul General in Los Angeles Award of Excellence in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding accomplishments (2017); and the CAFA (Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards) gave him an outstanding achievement award for his career in photography (2019).
Kirkland recently embarked on a photographic shoot in the time of the Pandemic with the challenges of travel and working with an 8×10 camera, photographing in analog (shooting film). This is his story…
Hollywood Hills to Denver and back!
“Shooting with the 8×10 : You are always on the edge of failure,” Douglas Kirkland, September 2020
Patricia Lanza: How did this idea for the photographic shoot come about?
Douglas Kirkland: I have worked with the 8×10 camera for most of my career. I started using it in Virginia in a commercial studio then in the Sherwin Greenberg studio in Buffalo New York photographing still life of products. Later on I was in awe of the way Irving Penn created a different look in his studio, infusing life into still life photography. The Look Magazine Photo department had an 8×10 Deardorff camera which I took on the road with my 35 mm and Hasselblad. I experimented photographing stars like Catherine Deneuve and Dominque Sanda for a different look. When Look Magazine went out of business, the Director of Photography, Arthur Rothstein, offered me the camera and 16 holders for $100.00. It was a wonderful gift and the camera has been with me ever since.
“The Old Lady,” the camera that Luhrmann and I named and baptized, spent 7 weeks in the bush on Baz Luhrmann film Australia, making portraits of Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Aboriginal actors. She came to Italy to work with Monica Bellucci and other Italian stars.
She was with us on the set of The Great Gatsby to record timeless images of Leonardo DiCaprio, Toby Maguire, Carey Mulligan and other members of the crew. Some of these images hang in the Gatsby Suite at the Plaza designed by Award winning designer Catherine Martin, Baz Luhrmann’s wife. This camera has been my faithful friend through the past six decades.
One morning during the altered reality of our life with the Covid virus, I woke up with a new project in mind: I wanted to photograph Don Isidro Garcia who is 106. It was spontaneous thought. I am always thinking of new projects and ideas. My life is connected to a visual world and as I get older the importance of my visual world is even more intense. Photography is in my blood and I feel the need to take pictures.
Patricia Lanza: Who is Don Isidro Garcia and why did you choose this subject to photograph now?
Douglas Kirkland: Don Isidro Garcia is the father of my daughter in law Letty Kirkland, my son Mark’s wife. I had photographed him 10 years before in Los Angeles with the 8×10 camera. He was in his mid 90’s then. I was impressed by his intensity and energy. He and his wife started to dance in our living room, they were connected and wonderful to watch. I congratulated him on his 100 birthday and sent him a pink tie because he is a very dapper gentleman. I always wanted to make another portrait of him. Why now? I suppose that was random. Maybe I had more time because of the confinement to think of what I wanted to do next!
Patricia Lanza: During this time of the pandemic, how did you form the production since the subject lived in another state
Françoise Kirkland: I tried to explain to Douglas that this was not something we could easily do since our subject Don Isidro lives in Denver but he was very adamant and wanted to find a way. It is our friend, photographer Dana Fineman really made it all happen!
We have known Dana for 40 years. She assisted Douglas and he mentored her. I worked with her extensively when I ran the West Coast bureau of the French Agency Sygma. She is a great talent, fearless and full enthusiasm, When the pandemic started we thought it would be more interesting to quarantine together with her and the border doodle Sonny Boy. We have created our own little bubble and we are having great fun.
When I told her about Douglas’s idea and the apparent impossibility to accomplish this safety, her response was: ” Of course we can do it, we rent an RV” . I pointed out that I personally had never driven an RV nor traveled in one but she was confident this was going to work out We were all ready for an adventure and started intensive planning, making endless lists, looking at maps, going through the most beautiful National parks, finding places for us to stop along the way. We took our Nespresso machine on the road and a bucket of fresh herbs in little pots. I made ratatouille and a couple of quiches to freeze. We had a fridge full of everything you could possibly want from homemade salsa to burrata, French cheeses, steaks and stuff to make Smoore’s. Douglas was obsessed with photographing skies and clouds with his digital camera on the way and Dana gave him the nickname “Chief Shooting Cloud” . We got on the road in the beginning of August and celebrated Douglas’s 86th birthday on the road. It really could not get any better than this! And our friend Jean Francois Leroy says “Mieux, c’est pas supportable”!
Patricia Lanza: Discuss your journey and to the subject?
Douglas Kirkland: The journey was an amazing adventure through some of the most beautiful parts of this country like Zion Park and Sante Fe. But what made it special was that we had a mission. We enjoyed and appreciated the voyage all the more because we had a clear goal.
Patricia Lanza: Discuss the technical aspects, your choice to shoot 8×10 camera and film?
Douglas Kirkland: Shooting with the 8×10 camera you are always on the edge of failure.
The beauty of the 8×10 is that is allows time for reflection. You have to be very deliberate.
The look in people eyes can be haunting because they have to sit still for a while. It is the opposite of the way photography is now. I am happy to shoot with the latest digital cameras but there is a romance to the 8×10 and film: the time spent composing and focusing, the simplicity and complexity of the camera, my 15-year-old nephew is fascinated with it and asked where the battery was, and then the trips to the lab, the large transparency. Michael Rand the legendary Editor in Chief of the London Sunday Times used to talk about the seduction of the large format on a light table. This camera is reflective of the times we live in at the moment.
Patricia Lanza: What is coming up for the future?
Douglas Kirkland: More 8×10 portraits.
Francoise and I are receiving the Alfred Steiglitz Award in October from the LACP
Coco Chanel and MM are at the Finnish Museum of Photography
Francoise and I are working on a book idea. Women have been the driving force in my life and I would like to create a volume of images as Homage to the Feminine
Photography has been the perfect companion along with Francoise. I was very lucky to have found my dream. The amazing thing is, I never imagined that my dream could take me so far. David Cohen likes to say that I have dreamed my life and then I lived it.