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A Life in Pictures

From: Douglas Kirkland on Photography: A Life in Pictures

Video: A Life in Pictures

(MUSIC) Who is Douglas Kirkland and where did he come from? How did I end up where I am because the probability of my being here today and established as a photographer seemed most unlikely And it was a lot of series of small steps. In this book which is called Douglas Kirkland A Life In Pictures, I recall and recount all of these different steps that occurred. It's an honest story told from the heart.

A Life in Pictures

(MUSIC) Who is Douglas Kirkland and where did he come from? How did I end up where I am because the probability of my being here today and established as a photographer seemed most unlikely And it was a lot of series of small steps. In this book which is called Douglas Kirkland A Life In Pictures, I recall and recount all of these different steps that occurred. It's an honest story told from the heart.

As a photographer it's very important for me to do books. This is my 16th book. And people sometimes ask me, why do you do books? It's because it has a permanence. because we do things for magazines and they go any time between a month and sometimes a week, their gone. But what is very special is that it remains, and when you put it in a hardcover. It seems to elevate it's importance and it will last for years. But it's also most importantly your images.

And, what was important to you as the photographer. And how you landed there? This is an ultimate expression for me. >> Well, my first meeting with Douglas was in 2005 and, well first of all I was blown away by his work, not just the quality of it but the breadth of it, the amount of it, the incredible access he's had over the years. So we agreed that we would move forward to do a book that included many, many of his celebrity photographs and we proceeded to do a book called Freeze Frame.

(MUSIC) We did Freeze Frame, we've done a Coco Chanel book, we did a fabulous Michael Jackson, Thriller book. And, I think the monograph kind of grew out of my anxiety about oh my god, how were are going to publish all these books. We have so many great books, and I thought, wait a minute, it's time for monograph. Here's somebody who has, you know, a huge decades long career, has been doing brillliant work from the very beginning and it's Much more diverse and varied than one would think because the celebrity work is what people are most familiar with, and I thought this is really a wonderful opportunity to say this is the career of Douglas Kirkland.

(MUSIC) >> This was not my camera, this was my parents' camera. But it's, happened to be the camera, which I took my very first photo with. And we used to hold it together with this rubber band. (MUSIC) The brownie, box brownie 116.

It was a cold morning in Fort Eerie, Christmas day. I was ten years of age. I was finally permitted to use the camera and I looked down there, moved around, saw my parents and my brother Staying in front of the house Christmas day very cold that click that small click is really where my career and my enjoyment and my excitment about photography began. (MUSIC) This was the camera that my professional career really began with, it was called a Speed Graphic, and when you held this in your hand it said to everybody I am a professional.

This is the camera that I used in Welland Ontario at the newspaper and they gave it to me I shot everything with this. I shot hockey games, I shot, more than any I shot weddings, and I also shot babies. Every opportunity I had, I loved doing this. And this is what really, truly said, I want to be a professional. At 15 years of age. It was an early start, and it really began with this camera. (MUSIC) I realized that there was a whole world of big time photographers out there, and I said to myself, I would like to have a job with some of these people.

See what it's like behind the scenes in the biggest part of the photographic world, in New York. I worked with Irving Penn for about four months, I learned an enormous amount. (MUSIC) And I was driven. As we say the fire was in the belly big time. And I took my portfolio and I went around town, I found work, and how did I do that? I didn't go to Life and Vogue or Look magazine, none of these. What I did is I went to the small publications. And I worked for Popular Photography, I was delighted to have worked with them.

I kept finding, expanding, creating work and to make a long story short July of that year of 1960 I was hired by Look and that's when my life really began. I believe I got my true education traveling for Look. (MUSIC) One person who is a great and positive influence on me and it was on another assignment from, Look. I was set off to Paris to do a story on Coco Chanel, she was an inspiration for me.

I think she saw herself in me, because she had come up from the bottom. And she sort of said, you can do amazing things, you have capabilities. And frankly, that stayed with me. And as I grew up, at Look they trusted me more and more, and gave me more projects that were very special. And then started to allow me to do whatever I wanted, within reason. And I did fashion, I did sports, journalism and again, all this is building blocks and this is where this guy sitting here came from.

(MUSIC) (SOUND) I was wondering. >> Page 141. >> Again this is I think if (UNKNOWN) is raised a little or if she could maybe be a fraction just more. I'd like to see the eyes line up. I'm okay with the size but if there's a way of lining them up some, and it doesn't have to be 100% lined up but I think it'll be a more comfortable visual to look between them.

>> And how did you render these as spreads while staying within the grid? >> Okay, fine. >> And. >> It's quite overwhelming when somebody says, show your life's work. Last time our collection was evaluated they came up with a number of 1 million images that schedule negatives transparencies and prints. So we would find the pictures that were important and scan them. And then we ended up delivering 2500 images, which were cut down to about 720 I believe.

That's how many are in the book. I, I trust you, you know? >> Okay. >> And the eleventh hour here, I truly do. >> We work with a designer and we turned the photos over to Sarah. And Sara sequenced every single double-paged spread the way she thought the pictures worked the rest together. So she looked at the composition of the photos juxtaposed one to the other. And so it's a beautiful and surprising representation of Douglas's work, because you begin to realize through her design the artistry of what he's done. The themes of what he's done.

So I think it's kind of a monumental work, both specifically to Douglas and as a. A perfect kind of representation of what a monograph should be in general. >> She brought elements together that truthfully would not have occured. For example, on one of the opening prints of this book is a bird lying in mud near Mount St. Helens. And, yet she combined it with a woman in Italy having a mud bath. And then she puts Aubrey Hepburn from the 60s together with Michelle Williams, who played Marilyn Monroe, and they're face to face.

You see the year doesn't matter, but the aesthetic does and that's where she had such a, a, a wonderful eye and I would trust Sara at any time with my work. That's a picture we took here in California before we lived here, and we were here for doing a story. And we came upon this. >> It was leaving the cities. >> Field of flowers. We got out of the car, put the feet, the camera in the flowers and I had a remote control, and first was had this beautiful long dress. And we walked and that was it. It was just meant to happen. It's a picture I really care about.

>> But if, it, it, it, it's wonderful with John Lennon, it really works. >> I probably did more photography with this camera at Look than any other single camera. It's like a family friend, it's been very good to me. And this was an exceedingly important camera for me in developing my career in New York. Sometimes people ask me how I ever got involved in the world of movies, and it was a rather surprise because I was not hired at Look to work with celebrities or stars or have anything to do with the movies.

And I happened to be shooting fashion, and I got a call from my boss in New York and he said, we'd like you to go to Las Vegas because Elizabeth Taylor has not done an interview or been photographed in almost a year now. And as they used to say in, in the newspaper business, I got an incredible scoop. And again, I had my house of lead there, with high speed extra chrome, and I made it work. (MUSIC) Those pictures was not even my first cover on LOOK, but those pictures ran all over the world.

That put me on the map and that was in June and by September I was traveling with Judy Garland and I traveled with her for a month. (MUSIC) And then. Marilyn Monroe, and that was in November of 1961. When I worked with Marilyn, again, it was the house of lead. What I did is I had a very bright light, and I had a scrim that's coming through, just one light coming through.

Creating what we call a north light look, like a, a big window. And that was the lighting was that, that elementary, that simple. Marilyn had suggested that she'd like to be photographed on a bed, and she said with a white silk sheet, Dom Perignon champagne and Frank Sinatra records, we had all of that. But with a camera, the most important thing at this point is, you have to have your photographic process working seamlessly, flawlessly, because Marilyn needs all your attention.

(MUSIC) Give to your attention your subject because they ultimately will make the picture. (MUSIC) I did not say to Marilyn, Put your arm up. Do this, do that. I just talked, the flirting, the vibes going back between us, and what I did was that sexuality that was popping from her, that went into the camera, and that's why we have these Marilyn pictures. (MUSIC) (NOISE) A little later after I'd been on look a couple of years, about 1962 I started using more 35 millimeter because the reproduction process had improved in such a way that they were able to use 35 millimeter transparencies. And I had a Cannon flex that was my main camera but I also had one of these cameras.

This was Nikon F. (MUSIC) This was my principle camera that I used on film shoots and movie shoots. I love this. It was more and more My central camera, the 35 millimeter. I worked on 161 movies in the movie industry. The process doesn't change, whether I'm doing it today, or whether I did it years ago. You have to be in the background, and not in anybody's way, and not slow the process of the movie being made.

And you have to show respect for the people, and you try to connect and be connected with the stars. I mean, for example One major film I worked on, was very successful, was Titanic. I believe it sold more books than any book of its type ever. On the Great Gatsby, we were there for a month or more and we did a lot of advertising work. We were working with the eight by ten as well as the digital camera. Connecting with the individual is very important. And even sometimes you only have 15 minutes with a person.

And I work with the, for example people nominees for the Academy Award. And I photograph 20 of them, and sometimes in 15 minutes. You have to make the connection. That is very important. You keep that relationship. I love the individuals whom I meet through this. And it's contributed to my career. (MUSIC) Well, you've really improved John Travolta here a lot. I hope they're not green in any way are they? >His eyes? >> Are you seeing green? >> >> In other words.

>> A little bit, yeah. >> Just desatch them a little. And Dianna Ross, done deal. >> Okay. >> Whenever I do any book, whether it's the monographs, monograph here, or when it was Marilyn Monroe, or any of the other books we've done, I really care. As a photographer, you want your picture to look a certain way, and you want it to be represented at its very best. Years back we would give it to an art director and somebody else would make the scans, it was a very hit and miss process.

Today we have much more control, because we do it in our own computers with our own scans. And what we also did was make, made up books, which we printed here. We kept a book here and gave them a book to have on press. That was very important. So they knew what the, what the end game was, and what we expected. Okay. We're 90% there. >> Mm-hm. >> Keep the color as it is. Add contrast and bump it a little light here. >> Okay. >> Hugh Jackman looks great, there. It's one of my favorite pictures.

Again, another eight by ten. (MUSIC) This camera is a very special camera for me. This is an eight by ten Deardorff. I used this in a commercial studio and I, for use in photo school but I also worked in Buffalo, New York photographing products all day long and this is the camera I used. Okay. Right. Thank you. So we're going to do a fairly close shot to begin with, and I want to pull back. People say to me, why do you use a camera like this? And truthfully, you get a look on peoples faces that are different than if you just pick up a camera and go click.

Everything has to be held in one position. In other words, it takes time to take a picture with this. (MUSIC) You look in the back, you focus it. Usually I do it with a loop or magnifying glass and you get it right. You may adjust this a little because you're seeing all this in the back and then once it's ready you must have your subject stay in the same position. You put the film in, pull the slide and then you come over here. (NOISE) Take a picture like that and that is how it happens but in the process of doing that what happens is people have a different look on their face.

Because they've had to hold still and it's really a look of the 19th century almost. That's what's very special, and the other thing that's very unusual and then as its focus is very precise and a very special part of my arsenal. I work on a project for almost 22 years now. Called On Film for Kodak for the motion picture division. And what that amounts to is photographing a usually it's a cinematographer or occasionally it's a director, or once in a while producer.

But I've done one of those a month for 22 years, and they still continue. And since this series is called, On Film and it's about motion picture film. I have to shoot film and that's where the RZ Mamiya comes out this six by seven. In our book we have most of the people are photographed. There are 235 I believe they are individuals. If I photographed them at certain background and certain lighting.

Did one person I try to make the next person different because I, I feel you can't repeat the same image. I'm glad to have the capability of working with film, but I'd say that 3 quarter of our work is really done with one camera. It's called the 5D Merk 3. But today, with the digital technology that we have, it really excites me, and allows me to get pictures that I never would have been able to as, as little as ten years ago.

I wouldn't have been able to get them with the same consistency and ease. We do a wide variety of work here, and I still enjoy the flexibility of different challenges. I don't want to just be doing the same picture all the time. On one of the assignments we got, was for a small magazine in Hong Kong, of all places, and there's a wonderful young woman called Sarah Grace. She's a singer and we were asked to photograph her. Now what happens when you lean your shoulder on the wall? And so what we did is, we started with a 24 105 on a white wall.

And I had music playing and allowed her to move around, and I, a fan sometimes near to move the hair. (SOUND) And then I wanted to get into her beautiful eyes, and so I did some head shots. And then I came down into the studio. I lit the room with a blue gel, and then put spotlights just on a few places. And then I wanted something a little different.

And so, I had her sit on the floor here with a black seamless paper and a light coming from behind. And I, I just wanted her to sit there and allow herself to lead and the people at Key magazine said their only complaint was there was too much good material. That was their problem, and they didn't know how to make it fit their magazine. They made the cover in about half a dozen pages (MUSIC) I was asked to photograph Debbie Allen for promotional work in Australia and Debbie Allen herself is quite an amazing individual who had worked on West Side Story.

And what I feel she's done with what she's written here which is called Freeze Frame is really like a 21st century West Side Story. I got a large studio, which I could light with strobes to emulate a sense of theater, I did not want people to think I was in a photo studio, I wanted them to feel like they were seeing the stage. I photographed it as well as I could technically and got talking with the performers themselves and it worked.

I have no intention of ever retiring. As long as this hand can lift a camera and push that button I want to keep doing it, because it's the joy of my life and frankly my careers arrived at a point where I'm enjoying the best of it. And that's the way I feel about it, and I just want to use every moment I have to a maximum. (MUSIC) These arrived yesterday. We've started going through them and making some notes.

We have learned certain things. We're mainly looking at the color printing and the printing quality itself. Generally it's pretty good, but at the beginning, we were a little thrown, because this paper was a, a paper that was tested, and they decided not to use it. It was really very flat looking. >> Right. (CROSSTALK) This >> The color, we got to proofs back, we learned at a certain point, they looked all looked a little flat to me, lacking contrast. And we learned that, amazingly, they weren't on the same paper that. The final book would be down on and the book is going to have a variety sawn on it, which we weren't seeing it.

So that we had to take that into a, the process and fortunately I've been around the publishing world enough through the years to be able to interpret those things. In other worse, the paper would be slicker, so you are going to get more contrast. So, I didn't want to put a lot more contrast in there. >> You thought For instance, the Audrey. At the, at the beginning we thought maybe it should be changed, but then when we thought of, of it being spot varnished, then it doesn't, it doesn't need adjustment. >> Right. >> So, so there's no point in changing.

>> It, we had this type of >> Right, right. >> So this was, this was acceptable. >> We made it as perfect as we could, initially, and then when we saw the proofs, we told them the adjustments we wanted, but until you hold the book in your hand, you're quite nervous in that intermediate period. (MUSIC) The day we got this book, honestly what was my reaction? You know what it was Great relief, because they'd done it right.

You know, I have had situations through the years where you tell press people I want this and that and they don't reach quite as far. I don't know of one image in there that I'm not happy with, the way it's been reproduced (MUSIC) What I hope you feel when you look through the book is that you're seeing a wonderful flow of a life that I've enjoyed. And then we have four gate folds we called them, in other words images that fold out to be a meter.

One of them is wild horses in Australia. And that's one of my favorite images. And then another one is the Sound of Music. Beautiful, wide shot of Julie Andrews coming across that hill, which became a, a very principle piece of the advertising for that movie. And then another one is devoted to the Italians. Is a collage that I put together, because there were so many people we wanted to salute, and so many images we wanted to show. And then they used some velum pages in there, they give a very beautiful feeling.

This is not a book that's just been knocked out. There's a lot of charisma put into it, and frankly, not all publishers would do that. But Marta Howard and literati have done it. And that, is very, very pleasing. (MUSIC) What I hope people take away from this book, frankly, is some sense of the joy of image.

For all the books I've done this point in life. This is the most important one because it's honest, it's complete. No one has ever allowed me to tell the full story before. They always wanted this or that, only movies, this is the complete story as far as I'm concerned. I never expected to be here where I am and a lot of people helped me through the years. My life in pictures have been very good to me and I can't think of a better life.

(MUSIC)

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