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A Life in Photography

From: Creative Inspirations: Douglas Kirkland, Photographer

Video: A Life in Photography

(Music playing.) Douglas Kirkland: I had a grandfather who lived up in Canada. He had one job in his entire life. Can you imagine that? It was a very simple job. It was of working in a foundry, but I mean that's unthinkable today. In other words, you will probably have many career changes in your lifetime and certainly if you are a photographer, you will too. For me, it hasn't many career change, but it's been adapting to the world changing. You've heard me say I worked for all these different types of publications and I fell in love with each of them and I did the most, but I had one central point and that was always photography.

A Life in Photography

(Music playing.) Douglas Kirkland: I had a grandfather who lived up in Canada. He had one job in his entire life. Can you imagine that? It was a very simple job. It was of working in a foundry, but I mean that's unthinkable today. In other words, you will probably have many career changes in your lifetime and certainly if you are a photographer, you will too. For me, it hasn't many career change, but it's been adapting to the world changing. You've heard me say I worked for all these different types of publications and I fell in love with each of them and I did the most, but I had one central point and that was always photography.

Now, what type of photography do you like to do? What's your favorite type of work? Audience Member: Um. I don't know. Like I'm kind of interested in kind of like the advertisement look of photography and I want to get more into that. Douglas Kirkland: That's good though, you have a direction. That's excellent, because I sometimes do the same thing myself. I imagine something and I say, how can I put these elements together? I'll tell you. It's been made a lot easier in a time of digital. You can do all those things. There's essentially nothing that you can't do today.

You can do just about anything, and then which is great. Okay, I'd like -- yeah Audience Member: Do you ever get intimidated shooting? Douglas Kirkland: Okay, do I ever get intimidated? Interesting, it's a very excellent question. Do I ever get intimidated? I have when I was younger. But there is an interesting thing that came over me at a certain point. I said to myself, I've gone through this war and that war. I am speaking of the shoot wars. Marilyn Monroe scared me to death in those early days. It really did. Here I was, I would say today, totally unqualified to be doing that shoot.

But I wouldn't let them and the other people know that. So, I acted like I had the world on string and I could handle it. I must say that, what I often say to myself if I've got a big shoot coming up, is I've accomplished all these things, I can certainly go on and do even bigger things. The interesting thing is, sometimes when I have been under the maximum stress and I've reached the furthest, that's when I've even surprised myself. A case in point. Again, I am leveling with you. Those pictures out of Vasquez Rocks.

The model -- the two models, the two people, which was the same girl by the way. We shot out of Vasquez Rocks and then we shoot her in our studio, then put the two together in Photoshop. That was a really very difficult shoot, because a lot of things seemed to happen, including that it started raining when we were out at Vasquez Rocks. But you don't say no. You just keep doing it and finding a way and you can do it. Am I intimidated? There are people who try to intimidate me, but the funny thing is occasionally without intending to, I have intimidated other people and it's not my goal.

I'd like to do just the contrary, just the opposite. But you can be intimidated if you allow yourself to be. You have to believe in yourself, and know that you've had a number of accomplishments, which I am sure everyone of you have had accomplishments. Once you realize it, not to flaunt it, not to be arrogant, but just to be confident. That is very important. Yes? Audience Member: Do you think that Photoshop is a positive input on photography? Douglas Kirkland: It has been for me, but it's misused by certain people.

Audience Member: Being able to like edit out people's imperfections. Douglas Kirkland: Ah that, it depends. It can be used badly and it can be used very badly, as a matter of fact. But for me, I've lived the other way and boy, I tell you I am glad I have it today. I really am. Because I knew the computer, because I've used it for word processing and everything, but suddenly I saw the possibilities. It was my darkroom, it was my repronar, which was a device we used to have for photographing or rephotographing chromes, building pictures.

It was all that and so much more. I felt emancipated personally by the computer. And the other thing. The other thing is, I would do work on my own, and that usually ends up really paying off, because if I really care about something and the guys who work with me will tell you this. I don't do this just for money alone. I mean, you want to make a living, you want to keep going, but I'll do anything if it's a creative thing to do. Again, on the computer we are particularly able to do that.

It's not the soul thing that Photoshop and digital is around, but it certainly helps. But no single area is the most important. They're all important. It's a passion for life. It really is. One of the great things about photography, it releases you to go and engage in all these things, and meet people, and do things, and that's what I have enjoyed so much through the years, through my career. Yes? This young man in the back row. Audience Member: In your interpretation of every time you go on a shoot, and you're shooting thousands of people in your lifetime, is there certain key elements that you always take with you, that's embedded in your soul that it works for you every time? Douglas Kirkland: What is embedded in me, and I don't mean to overly simplify it, is frankly a love of people and a love of life.

I hope you've seen it. If you think back to what you're seeing tonight, you generally see they're happy pictures, of people having fun. I want to operate spontaneously as possible with any camera I use. Now, I switched from Nikon to Canon years ago and first, they wanted to just give me everything. I said, I am not sure I want it. That's quite an offer, isn't it? But I took one camera and carried it around, all day long. It's like a cowboy living with his gun and that's basically what I did.

I wanted to know every bump on it, every ripple on the side of it, what it meant, and how it felt like. I leave my newest camera sitting on my desk just so I can pick it up, and feel it, and try it, and test it, and see what its limitations are, what it will do. I want it to be part of me. You don't have to have necessarily the latest, but you have to be one with your equipment, you really do. So, yeah, I can think if I am photographing any individual in here, I can think of you or you, and not have to worry about too many things.

I mean, I want it all to flow together and that's been very important to me. Know your equipment, know your lights, know anything you want it to do. You are empowered if you have that. If you don't have that down, if you don't have that wired, you are going to be limited. Yes? Audience Member: Where did you go after high school? Douglas Kirkland: Okay. I went to a lot of places. To begin with I never held a job very long. I was curious, and I kept changing jobs, and I was always dissatisfied.

I left after one year of high school where I was in Canada and then I went to a special school in Buffalo, New York. It was the only one of its type at the moment. It was a vocational high school teaching photography. So, we'd spent half a day with traditional subjects and then half a day with photography. I started having dreams. One of the dreams was I wanted to work on a newspaper. I dreamed of working, I think Denver Post I think was the one I wanted to work on. I don't why the Denver Post. It was ridiculous with no reason, but it seemed like a cool place to live and work.

So that one, and I never got to Denver Post, but I did get a small paper. First a weekly, later a daily. You know what's the funny thing? I've got to tell you something. This is the con part of me. I convinced myself of something. When I do that, I find this strange thing. I find I can make it happen and that's what I've often done. I thought, I said, I wanted to work in a newspaper. I looked at what they were doing, thought, how can I do it better? That's what I did. I was able to, and I was able to convince people through my conviction.

Now, the other thing I'll say to you, just probably in winding up here, I must not keep you here too long. It is basically, you have to, as I've said earlier, you have to enjoy yourself, care about it, have a lot of interests, and the great thing about photography is you're going to expand interests through photography. You name it, if you want to look at children, you could take a camera and just photograph children and do it in such an unusual way, you'll create a whole new look. Then you have to say, how am I going to market that work? Well, maybe you could find maybe you can put a book project here, or maybe you do a show, whatever you want.

There is not anything that you can't find a way to make happen. So, it's called inventing yourself and there have been many inventions of Douglas Kirkland and they haven't stopped and I don't think they'll ever stop. Okay, thank you very much! Nice meeting you! (Applause.)

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