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.
Douglas’ lens would explore the world of fame. His work would bring history alive, developing a window that allows us to connect and touch the past.
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, Marilyn 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.
“ She was not like the Marilyn I expected, She was easy and light, and almost playful, and very disarming for me”
Douglas in an interview for CBS.
Born on August 16, 1934, in Fort Erie Canada, Kirkland began his career as an apprentice to the acclaimed photographer Irving Penn in 1957 after working in a small photo studio in Richmond, Virginia.
He quickly learned that his apprentice salary wasn’t enough to survive on and after being rejected from a wage increase, Douglas set himself a goal. That goal was to make his mark as an acclaimed photographer within one year.
His aspiration was stretched out over a year. Trying to build a portfolio from scratch was a step-by-step process as collaborations with small publications took time.
Regardless, he accomplished his goal.
Douglas landed a role at Look Magazine and in that same year, was appointed a contract with Coco Chanel and Elizabeth Taylor in 1961. This was followed by his famous Marilyn Monroe series.
Through the years Kirkland reflects the different sides of the cinematic world on over 170 motion pictures. He captured scenes and stars from The Sound of Music, Titanic, The Great Gatsby and Out of Africa, Moulin Rouge, Sophie’s Choice, A Space Odyssey and more.
Aged at 86, the works of Kirkland remain in demand and loved by many.
His fine art photography has been exhibited all over the world. Having a permanent exhibition of Freeze Frame in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science in Beverly Hills, one in Smithsonian at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra Australia, the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles and many more.
In 2008, Vanity Fair Italy organised a retrospective of his work at the Museum of the Triennial in Milan. He is a member of the prestigious Hewlett Packard’s Photo Influencers, Canon’s Explorers of Light and the American Society of Cinematographers.
These achievements have been followed by many awards, including a “Lifetime Achievement Award’ from the American S.O.C, Photographer of the year from the PMA and a Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievements in Entertainment Photography from the IPA in 2003.
When not travelling the globe on assignment, he lives in the Hollywood Hills with his wife and business partner Françoise.
At age 84, Douglas Kirkland was asked, ‘What is the definition of photography?’
And in response he said:
"The richness of everything around me... the people I have been able to be with and the cultures I was able to be in.
It’s been very kind to me and for me that is what photography will always be.”