Everything began with a « click ».
Even as a child, photography appealed to him and his first models were his family and friends. At the beginning, arriving from his native Canada, Douglas Kirkland worked in a small photo studio in Richmond, Virginia. It was during this period that he discovered the work of Irving Penn, which fascinated him. He then did everything in his power to become his assistant. The young man learned quickly but was very poorly paid. He decided to give himself a year to build up a portfolio and create a reputation on the New York scene. He collaborated with various small publications before being hired at the age of twenty-four as a photographer for “Look” magazine. He learned French from Coco Chanel and photographed Liz Taylor, who gave a first impulse to his career. But it was his session with Marilyn Monroe that propelled him to the firmament the same year.
Then he joined “Life Magazine”. It was in the 60s and 70s and it was the golden age of photojournalism. At that time Douglas Kirkland made reportages on Greece, Lebanon and Japan, as well as works on fashion or stories about celebrities. In fact, the number of celebrities who posed for him over the years could no longer be counted, including Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin, Brigitte Bardo, Morgan Freeman, Orson Welles, Andy Warhol, John Travolta, Oliver Stone and many more.
If he likes to photograph the stars in their intimacy, Douglas Kirkland also worked on film sets. “2001 Space Odyssey”, “Sophie’s Choice”, “Out of Africa”, “Butch Cassidy and the Kid”, “Titanic”, “Gatsby the Magnificent” or “Moulin Rouge” are some of the films he has collaborated on.
Although he focuses on portraits, he also likes to photograph landscapes, as part of his reportages or his personal work.
Douglas KIRKLAND has also taught at the Smithsonian Institution, the AFI Conservatory in Hawaii and Los Angeles, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and the Kodak Centers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. His career as a whole has earned him widespread recognition. He continues to photograph the film world and to pursue his own projects, including work on his archives for the upcoming publication of a book of black and white photography: “When We Were Young”.
In September 2008, Vanity Fair Italy organized a retrospective of his work at the Triennale Museum in Milan. He is a member of Canon’s prestigious Explorers of Light and an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers. His awards include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American S.O.C., a Lucie Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment Photography from the IPA in 2003, The Golden Eye of Russia in April 2006. In February 2011, the American Society of Cinematographers ASC presented him with the prestigious President’s Award. In the summer of 2015, he received a special Nastri D’Argento (silver ribbon) at the Taormina International Film Festival. In September 2017, he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Canadian Consul General in Los Angeles. In Toronto, in 2019, he was presented with a CAFA (Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards) Award of Excellence for his career in photography.
Currently he is exhibiting (and until October 10) at the Gadcollection Gallery in Paris. Through a selection of 15 photographs of Marilyn Monroe never exhibited in France, the photographer offers an insight to the heart of one of the most iconic women who has crossed his life.
Your first photographic trigger ?
Douglas Kirkland : One cold Christmas Day, I must have been about 10 or so, my parents let me use the family Box Brownie to photograph them and my little brother in front of our house. It is was “That Click” which I never forgot that made me become a photographer.
The man of images who inspires you?
Douglas Kirkland : Gordon Parks, a beautiful Man For All Seasons. A legendary photographer, filmmaker, author, composer and musician who did it all extraordinarily well.
© The Gordon Parks Foundation
The image you would have liked to make?
Douglas Kirkland : Dovima in Paris with the Elephants brilliantly captured by Richard Avedon in 1955.
© Richard Avedon – Courtesy of the Richard Avedon Foundation
The one that moved you the most?
Douglas Kirkland : Lella by Edouard Boubat taken in 1948. That was one of my first photo acquisition and hangs in our bedroom.
© Edouard Boubat
And the one that made you angry?
Douglas Kirkland : The images of children lying dead assassinated with Sarin gas in Syria.
© AFP/Getty Images
A key image in your personal pantheon?
Douglas Kirkland : Marilyn Monroe naked lying in silk sheets hugging a pillow is the image people remember me for.
© Douglas Kirkland – Courtesy of the artist
The quality needed to be a good photographer?
Douglas Kirkland : Curiosity, dedication and passion.
The secret of the perfect image, if it exists?
Douglas Kirkland : There is no secret, it just happens.
The person you would like to photograph?
Douglas Kirkland : President Obama.
An indispensable photo book?
Douglas Kirkland : The Family of Man by Edward Steichen.
The camera of your early days?
Douglas Kirkland : 4×5 Speed Graphic with Flash attachment and flash bulbs.
The one you use today ?
Douglas Kirkland : The latest Canons and my treasured Deardorff 8×10 film camera.
Your favorite drug?
Douglas Kirkland : Photography.
The best way to disconnect for you ?
Douglas Kirkland : Taking pictures.
Your greatest quality ?
Douglas Kirkland : My vision and passion I have to this day.
A picture to illustrate a new bank bill ?
Douglas Kirkland : Jack Nicholson with a match in his mouth.
The job you wouldn’t have liked to do?
Douglas Kirkland : Garbage collector.
Your greatest extravagance as a photographer?
Douglas Kirkland : Buying my Hasselblad and set of lenses when I was making very little money as a photographer in 1959.
The values you wish to share through your images?
Douglas Kirkland : Beauty, connection, humanity.
The city, country or culture you dream to discover?
Douglas Kirkland : South Pole.
The place you never get tired of?
Douglas Kirkland : I never tire of Italy and France.
Your biggest regret?
Douglas Kirkland : I do not have any regrets.
Instagram, Tik Tok or snapchat?
Douglas Kirkland : Instagram but my wife Françoise deals with it and tells me how many likes and followers I have!
Color or B&W?
Douglas Kirkland : Both.
Daylight or artificial light?
Douglas Kirkland : Both
The most photogenic city in your opinion?
Douglas Kirkland : Paris and Venice.
If God existed would you ask him to pose for you, or would you opt for a selfie with him?
Douglas Kirkland : Definitely would respectfully ask him to sit for me and my 8×10 Deardorff.
The image that represents for you the current state of the world?
Douglas Kirkland : I will tell you about an image which is dear to me and represent the state of MY world now. It is a self portrait of Francoise and I in a field of flowers taken in 1972. It hangs in 60×40 inches in our living room. To me it represents beauty, nature, peace and love.
© Douglas Kirkland – Courtesy of the artist
What is missing in today’s world?
Douglas Kirkland : Compassion.
If you had to restart everything ?
Douglas Kirkland : I would not change a thing. I am very content with my life.
It’s worked out well.
WEBSITE : www.douglaskirkland.com
INSTAGRAM : douglaskirkland
EXHIBITION from Sept 3rd to October 10th at Galerie GADCOLLECTION in Paris