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Douglas Kirkland is one of the most accomplished and celebrated photographers of the last fifty years. This installment of the Creative Inspirations series offers insight into Douglas Kirkland's photography, from his early career at Look magazine during the golden age of photojournalism in the 60s and 70s to his transition from analog to digital photography in the 90s. His iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Nicholson, and Nicole Kidman, among others, are known all over the world. This series of videos includes a peek into Douglas's work, his studio, and some of his on-location photo shoots. Also view a presentation showcasing his body of work, a discussion with a group of high school photography students, an interview with Douglas and Lynda, and more.
(Music playing.) Lynda Weinman: Well, Douglas, it's so wonderful to sit here with you and we actually have a little bit of history together. I guess I was with you when you first discovered digital photography. Douglas Kirkland: You were more than with me; you led me into it. Lynda Weinman: You know, I mean we were both at the Creative Center, the Center for Creative Imaging. Douglas Kirkland: In Camden, Maine. Lynda Weinman: That's right. Douglas Kirkland: 1991; May, 1991. Lynda Weinman: That's correct. The purpose of this center, Kodak had created this center so that they could really enter the digital age.
They were concerned that digital photography might become popular. I mean at that time, it didn't exist yet and this was their effort to train the existing photographers of that era in digital. Douglas Kirkland: And graphic arts people as well. Lynda Weinman: That's right. So this was an invitation -only workshop and I actually was not one of the instructors in the first day's workshop. And the first day's workshop sold out so then the day after, I led the workshop and that was the one that you were able to attend.
Douglas Kirkland: Now, let me tell you. I never got a chance to sit in front of a computer because I was signing Marilyn Monroe prints and posters for people and they had these up and everybody wanted one, and there would be longer lines of people. I never got away from that desk. That's all I was doing. Lynda Weinman: And that was why you weren't in that first day's class. Douglas Kirkland: That's right. You had an opening, you had a free computer or two and that was when I slipped in and that was the day that changed my life as a photographer, it really did. Lynda Weinman: I totally remember on the drive to the center with you and having a discussion about how you were sort of skeptical about digital photography and you didn't think it would ever take off and you didn't really think that Photoshop, this newfangled Photoshop thing, was going to be anything that would ever appeal to you.
And then on the way home, it was a totally different experience because it truly did seem like it transformed all your thinking about how you were going to continue to work. Douglas Kirkland: Well, I have used computers since about 1980 actually, a long time, but they were just for word processing. I saw it as the pixelized image that I saw for word processing and it didn't occur to me that I didn't know about Photoshop. I think as I recall it was Photoshop 2.2. It was very, very early.
Lynda Weinman: It was very early. Douglas Kirkland: And you were the person who introduced me. We rode up there together. I was questioning it, we rode back and I was asking a lot of more questions. Lynda Weinman: That's correct and even in those days, we didn't have digital cameras yet. So the entire workflow was so different; you would have to scan your image into the computer and that was when you would do the manipulation. Douglas Kirkland: With minimal possibilities even in the scanners. Scanners have come a long ways in the years too. Lynda Weinman: That's true, and prints. Douglas Kirkland: Yeah. Oh, prints. Lynda Weinman: It just wasn't viable. Douglas Kirkland: Oh, we did -- we had dye-sub prints from Kodak.
They were okay for the time, but of course, they didn't have any longevity at all as compared with what we have today, with today's inkjet printers. High end inkjet printers are amazing. We get 200 -300 years. We could hope that it would last six months back in those early dye-sub days. Lynda Weinman: Absolutely. Douglas Kirkland: Dye- sublimation to be specific. Lynda Weinman: All these old terms like, remember the SyQuest disks and the Bernoulli disks? If you think about it, it's only 2008 today and this was 1991 and so it's not a lot of years, but so much has changed in that short amount of time.
Douglas Kirkland: The world is changing and it's interesting what changed with all of those transitions. I am a guy who grew up with film cameras, I learned to process film in the darkroom and do all of these things and that was my world. Today, there's very little of that done. Now, people ask me, if I still shoot film, I do occasionally for certain handful of clients or for sometimes a nostalgic look. Sometimes I work with a 8x10 camera even, to get that very special yesterday look. But most of my work is done personally with 1Ds Mark III or 40D Cannon.
But then there are other great cameras too, but the whole thinking is different. You see something, you conceive it, you see it and you immediately see what you have been able to do, which is especially good if you are teaching because you have an immediate reference. And you are still there and you can look up at what you have done, and you know whether it's good or not good and that's very helpful in teaching. Lynda Weinman: It sure is. I mean I just don't think today's generation can really appreciate what it was like in the past where you had to wait and put something into the lab and wait a few days before you ever saw the results.
I mean, even before Polaroid film, that was the way you must have worked back in the 1950s. Douglas Kirkland: It's vastly different. I mean just we could never have imagined back in those years that we would be here where we are sitting here and with the wealth of possibilities that we have with today's technology and you have become a great leader in this. I must commend you. Lynda Weinman: Well, thank you. Douglas Kirkland: And people need you. One of my assistants, Will, we said, you should-- he had some questions and uncertainties about Photoshop, we suggested, you should get into lynda.com, he did.
A couple of days later, he came back and he showed me some tricks on the keyboard that I didn't know. Lynda Weinman: And it's really an honor to be in this position where we are creating training and helping everybody stay current but that really is a challenge. I am sure it's a challenge to you to stay current even with or without lynda.com. So how do you guys do it and where do you draw the line between when you adopt new technology and when you stick with what you know just to be productive and keep up with the deadlines and things like that? Douglas Kirkland: I must confess that I haven't been as quick at learning Lightroom and Aperture as I should have, because I am still using Bridge and Photoshop because I know it and I do have a schedule to keep and we do a lot of work. It's very important for us.
We go all over the world shooting and it was never as easy as it was this year working with digital because you could work in extremely low light, you could have smaller, lighter lenses because you have got higher ISOs possible, and essentially, no noise in the latest cameras. People forget the importance of high ISOs and that's empowering. It really is, so you are carrying less equipment and it's doing more and that's even before just shooting it and then we did multiple saves every night.
So all of these things contribute to the richness we have today. Lynda Weinman: Now you have probably matured with your approach to digital photography because I remember when you first learned Photoshop, you were in Photoshop a lot and you were experimenting with a lot of filters and your work was quite altered as a result. So how do you describe the evolution of your own interaction with digital photography and how it's affected your work? Douglas Kirkland: Okay, well, I will answer that in the following way. Part of my amazement in the beginning was what I could do, how empowered I was by this machine.
How I could make the sky green, blue, red, anything I wanted, and all sorts of things like that and once you pass that point, you just want to learn how to refine images and make them really the way they should be. The extreme results are not what I want anymore. I did a book about it a year, approximately a year, a year-and-a-half after my first introduction to Photoshop with you. It was called Icons and a lot of extreme filters in that and I took a lot of the celebrity images I had and made these sort of wild outlandish bright colored images and it was cool.
Some of them held up but most didn't and today, again, we have all matured so much, we have this wealth and isn't it exciting? Lynda Weinman: It is and I really admire you and I am sure you are the envy of a lot of your photographer friends because you made this transition much sooner than many others. Douglas Kirkland: There is a very funny thing about that. I was one of the early group people just because technology interests me and you got me going on it. But what is quite interesting to me is that many people resisted it and to such an extent, I heard of a guy not too far from here, out in San Francisco, who said, he was retiring and he said, I am glad I am getting out of photography just before I had to learn all that Photoshop stuff.
Isn't that awful? Lynda Weinman: It's a shame, because I don't think he realizes how much fun Lynda Weinman: and how liberating it is. Douglas Kirkland: Oh, he lost. That's right. Douglas Kirkland: And anyway, I once said-- I said actually in that first book I wrote, Icons and I still feel it's true for me, this is the back end of the camera that I never had before. This is the machine that really makes it work. It allows me to carry it anywhere I want and very, very wonderful. It's enriching. Lynda Weinman: Well, do you think that the early days before computers shaped anything that has influenced what you do today with computers? I mean sometimes when you learn things in a very mechanical analog fashion, you build foundations and principles that people who just get into digital photography without having ever learned it the other way.
I mean can you talk a little bit about that? Douglas Kirkland: I think you made a very important point there because some people, they would be younger people and we are all young sometimes and there's great wealth and energy from that and it can be very beneficial period in one's life and a very exciting period and I am all for it. But I would say, I have had some people come to work for me who had only lived in the digital world and we would talk about something like film for some purpose or something pertaining to traditional work or even some history of photography, and I will realize that they are staring in space and they have no idea what I am speaking about.
I am glad I learned in the traditional way and then got into digital because I can see both avenues there and I think there is-- you value the richness that digital provides us with. But at the same time, I will never fight somebody if they say, oh, I want film. I can shoot film. Yes, I can shoot film. Lynda Weinman: Yeah, while film is still around. Douglas Kirkland: Yeah, while film is still around. Try Polaroid. Lynda Weinman: I mean I think everybody enters the workforce or their professional life at whatever era of time.
Photographers in the 1800s had a whole different set of parameters than we have today and so the younger generation is going to walk into this industry and they are never going to be able to go backwards. Polaroid is gone. There is no really turning back and if you think about photographers entering the workforce 20 years from now, 30 years from now, they won't have the ability to even learn the old ways, so. Douglas Kirkland: Most of them won't be able to or they won't care to. I think they will be much more limited. I personally am a believer that there is a great value in understanding this profession.
I mean I find in photo schools often, one of the things they are missing most often is that they don't learn any history. I mean the 30s, the 20s and back to the earlier part of the 20th century had great richness of image making. This can be done with digital work too. I mean let's say you put a sepia on. Well, some people, they don't even know how to say the word sepia; they call it sep-ia, things like that. But anyway, yes, there is a great history to look at, but this does not negate the digital camera.
I think the digital camera can do-- you can create any of these effects. That's tremendously exciting, it's a great way to communicate. Lynda Weinman: Well, I totally agree with you, but I also think there are timeless principles and sometimes in the enthusiasm over getting into digital on the fact that everything is so instant and automatic, those timeless principles are no longer honored, taught or even memorialized. So what sorts of timeless principles influence you to this day irregardless of what technology or camera or lens or whatever you are using? Douglas Kirkland: Well, one thing is, in this avenue of Polaroid and I see it frequently happen with digital, is you have a subject.
Let's say I was photographing you as you sit here today. Some people take one picture and then they spend three minutes looking at the picture, as their subject fades because it's ultimately the connection between you and somebody else and the camera is just an in between. You can take glances maybe at it, but you shouldn't be spending so much time with that or some photographers have that same problem with Polaroids because ultimately, it's your subject, you, and the communication between you and that's what's recorded.
It's all that and no machine will ever displace that. Lynda Weinman: Right, so that sort of the idea of being in the moment. Douglas Kirkland: Being in the moment and having your connection. A lot of it is communication. One of the things I often feel very strongly about is you can have any camera or any device you want, but if you cannot connect with somebody, you are not likely going to get a good picture of an individual as a portrait, say. Now you may get a good picture of a bridge or something, but it's so wonderful to be able to really communicate and that's what so much of my photography has been about.
It's how you are with people. Like, as we sit here talking, we get a buzz because we are in the same plane, but if you don't have that, it's not happening. Lynda Weinman: And I can imagine that the equipment can get in the way if you are new at this and you are really focused on, do I have the setting right or am I using this properly. You are forgetting about that connection, you are forgetting about being in the moment. Douglas Kirkland: As somebody doing this a long time, what I have always tried to do is develop the ability to have that handling of the camera work automatically.
So it's in the background. I don't have to look at it all the time. I have certain checks in my head but I have done this more than 50 years, let's say. Through that time I have learned a great deal and today of course, we have great automatic meters, automatic focus, all these things that we never would have imagined. But still, you have got to get a great image and whether it's the sun setting or whether-- you have so many options.
I have often said, one of the things I have said in the early days, the importance and significance and power of Photoshop, and I am generalizing, let's say the computer and camera, is that it gives you enough space to really screw up if you have bad ideas. I have taught some classes where people were using Photoshop and boy, they were bad. I mean they just didn't have it and they showed their lack of aesthetic judgment. Lynda Weinman: It's not a replacement for having a point of view and a good aesthetic vocabulary and filtering system.
I think to me, most of the greatest artists that I meet are their own worst critics. Would you say that that's true of yourself as well? Douglas Kirkland: Absolutely. You know I would tell you something about me just in a few words. I am my own critic all the time. At the end of each day of work, shooting, I will say, okay what did I do right, and what did I do wrong? Sometimes I will do it the other way around, but I try to learn from each day. If I did something right, hey, good, cool. I want to use this in the future.
I want to pick up lessons I have learned here. What was the light like, what was the day like, what was that -- how did it get running so well, and I would do the same thing if it didn't run well. First, admit you have messed up or you didn't do the best possible and then second, find out how to prevent that from happening in the future and that's the only way you get better because life, for me, is a learning process that never stops. That's what's great about-- We are not kids, either of us, but we have enjoyed this forward motion with the whole world of digital.
Lynda Weinman: It's a whole different world. I am really glad that we have been able to spend these days with you and get a little window into what your world looks like and -- Douglas Kirkland: We have tried to be as honest as we can. I really want the people to know that they have really lived with us and been as honest as possible. I really care passionately about photography and this world that we have and the possibilities that we have in it. It's very exciting. Lynda Weinman: Yes and it's so wonderful feeling to share, I think.
In a lot of fields, people are very protective of what they know and think that they have trade secrets and if they let anybody else know, they are going to somehow lose their power or lose their marketability and you don't seem to practice that. Douglas Kirkland: That's very short-sighted in my opinion. When I was very young in photography, in the first year or so, I made the decision that I was -- I'd taken an unusual picture and people didn't know how it was done and they were asking me how it was done. I made a clear decision at that point that I am going to tell all. I thought I don't want to be a one- trick act and I thought to myself, I will give this away and I am going to keep working and try and find something else to go to because-- Lynda Weinman: The next thing. Douglas Kirkland: Yeah, that's what's exciting.
Lynda Weinman: Yeah, that's what's keeps it interesting. Douglas Kirkland: Yeah, exactly. We have to do this, this is why we should be doing it and no one should have a corner in any market and you can't live on what you did yesterday. Lynda Weinman: Well, that's a great point. Lynda Weinman: Well, Douglas, I want to thank you so much for being with us and being part of lynda.com. Douglas Kirkland: Thank you. My pleasure.
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