3 Historic moments with Douglas Kirkland

 

 

As a young photographer age 24, Douglas Kirkland worked during the Golden Ages of the 60s and 70s for Look Magazine and later Life Magazine as a photojournalist.  His assignments ranged from capturing The Trans Siberian Railway, essays on Japan and fashion celebrity work.


1. Douglas Meets Elizabeth

In 1961 Douglas was sent to photograph for Look Magazine in New York to shoot bathing suits on the beach. His boss then called and said he needed to go to Las Vegas immediately as Elizabeth Taylor has agreed to do an interview with the magazine. She has said no pictures but Douglas was assigned the task to persuade her. So he went along and quietly sat in the back while she was interviewed. At the end he walked over to her and said “It’s very nice to meet you Elizabeth, I’m new to this publication — can you imagine what it would mean to me if you would give me the opportunity to photograph you?” and I kept looking into those famous violet eyes, and holding her hand, and she said, eventually, “Okay, come tomorrow night at 8.30.”. She hadn’t been formally photographed in 3 years. He says ‘the World was wild about her. I photographed her and then the pictures ran all over the World. That was the beginning of my career and within months I was travelling with Judy Garland.'

 


2.Douglas Meets Marilyn

The year of 1961 was considered one of those iconic moments, where Douglas was consigned to shoot Marilyn Monroe.

This unique assignment was less than a year before Marilyn had passed away, posing in what would become her most memorable photo-shoot. Over seven hours, the young photographer would capture a stunning range of photos that shared an alluring and intimate image of Marilyn. It was not only a statement of Douglas' skills and talent but a testament to Monroe's beauty and vulnerability. Starting off this assignment in a basic and traditional manner, Monroe was surrounded by stylists and assistants posing in a stunning dress. Just after fifteen minutes into her shoot, she declared, ‘This isn’t going to work,” turning to Douglas aged 27 at the time, "I know what we need – I need to be alone with this boy.”  She said while walking out of her dressing room. Douglas connected to his subject matter on a very personal level and what he captured was an unusual mix of fragility and sexual bravado that made Marilyn an endless fascination.


3. Douglas Meets Coco Chanel

In 1962 Look Magazine sent Douglas to Paris on another career defining assignment, to photograph Coco Chanel. “I didn’t speak any French and to begin with she wouldn’t speak to me in English. I was only allowed to photograph the outfits – she didn’t want me near her. But when I developed the first roll of film, I showed her the prints and she gave me a nod."

Douglas has explained that Coco would never stand back and just point at things. She liked to pull things together and pin them. “It was like watching a surgeon in an operating room – she knew precisely what she wanted." In the three weeks Douglas was there he said “I never saw her without her hat on and she smoked constantly” When Douglas was there he worked like a fly on the wall she then later took an interest in him, helping him develop his work. Despite her tough reputation, he  found her extremely warm and generous. On his last day of work she took him to Versailles. “It was chilly and had started to rain, even though it was August, so I gave her my raincoat. She put it over her shoulders and it looked almost like a fashionable cape”. Afterwards, he couldn’t believe his ears when Coco invited him to her home in Switzerland but when he telegrammed his boss back in New York he received the curt reply: ‘Assignment finished, come home”.

 

See the Douglas Kirkland Collection