Join Douglas Kirkland for an in-depth discussion in this video Meet Douglas Kirkland, part of Douglas Kirkland on Photography: Shooting with a Medium-Format Camera.
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(music playing) I grew up in a small town in Canada, only 7,000 people. The first picture I ever took was taken with a box camera, a Brownie box camera, and I remember pushing it into my chest, ten years of age at the time, and pushing that device down, and it went clunk. I got the buzz right then and it's never stopped since. Now Speed Graphic was the camera of the time, and if you had this in your hand, as a young man, I have to tell you, you really felt you were hot.
Turn this way, that way. I mean that was a charge like nothing else. I got a call from Look magazine, and I was basically hired to shoot fashion, and I was the new generation. I was in my mid-20s. The year was 1960. And then my boss in New York called me and he said, "We'd like you to go Las Vegas with our movie editor because Elizabeth Taylor, who hasn't been photographed or had a story done on her for about two or three years now, has said she will give us an interview." I sat quietly in the back of the room as the journalist interviewed her, and I went up to her at the end and I took her hand and I said, "Elizabeth, I am new with this magazine," looking straight here straight in the eye, just like I am you, "could you imagine what it would mean to me if you would give me an opportunity to photograph you?" I was holding her hand still.
Pause. She probably thought she was never going to be released, and then she said, "Okay, come tomorrow night at 8:30." To make a long story short, I did, and I got pictures that ended up really starting my career of photographing celebrities. I had the cover of Look magazine, my first cover, and from then it was like an explosion of possibilities. This camera is the one that I actually used to photograph Marilyn Monroe, this very camera, this 500C.
We went to visit her in her Hollywood home. It was this camera, myself, Marilyn, a wonderful photo session that went on for about three or four hours. I feel a great attachment to this. I have been very careful to hold on to my images. Ever since then, I was always able to keep my pictures, so that's why I have all these books, 15 in all at the moment, I believe. I am best known for my work around entertainment, and these are work from the movies.
They are different times, different places. I have worked on 160 films in all, by our last count. For me, one of the most significant and important areas of working with people is to know your subject, feel sympathetic toward them. You have to feel that I care about you, and I do. Boy do I ever! Because I know that what you have in you is going to make a great image, and honestly, you can have any lens in the world or any type of camera, but if you don't have a subject who's connecting with you, your chances are substantially reduced of getting a good image.
I learned from a lot of different sources and resources certainly and photography in the early days and later on with computers. I asked a lot of people a lot of questions, and I had a lot of wonderful people help me. And frankly, years ago, somebody gave me a lesson that I've really held on to, and I feel this way very strongly: do the same for somebody else. When you receive something good, just pass it along, and I hope that you get out of this something special, and I am trying to pass it along to you. I care about it.
I hope you do. (music playing)
This installment follows Douglas as he creates a portrait for Kodak's On Film series, which features portraits of directors, cinematographers, and other major players in the film industry. Douglas has shot nearly 250 portraits for this series over the past 20 years.
The course begins with a discussion of the unique qualities of film—its clarity, definition, and tonal range—and of film's enduring importance in today's digital world. Next, Douglas tours the Mamiya RZ67 medium-format camera, demonstrating its components and comparing its format to 35mm film. He then demonstrates a variety of lighting, posing, and styling techniques while photographing Owen Roizman, an award-winning cinematographer, in the Kirkland studio in Los Angeles, California.
The course concludes with a critique of the resulting photographs. Douglas also shows how he resized and cropped the image to fit a print advertisement.