“It’s interesting how I got started photographing celebrities. It was almost an accident. I was on a fashion shoot for Look magazine in California, and the editors asked me to see Elizabeth Taylor with a writer who was interviewing her in Las Vegas. They had said, “No pictures.” I went along and at the end of the interview, I looked her in the eye and said, “Elizabeth, I’m just beginning at Look. Can you imagine what it would mean to me and my career if you would give me an opportunity to photograph you?” She thought for a moment and said, “Come tomorrow night at 8:30.” Those pictures ran all over the world. She hadn’t been photographed in that way for years and the world couldn’t get enough of Elizabeth Taylor in those early 60s days. That catapulted my career, and before I knew it I was next photographing Marilyn and Judy Garland and Dietrich and on. And I was a celebrity photographer.”- Douglas Kirkland
I just had the fortune to attend a talk by Douglas Kirkland. He is really a sweet and lovely person. During the talk he reviewed his life behind the camera and he described the encounter with Elizabeth Taylor quoted above (you can see the picture of Elizabeth Taylor below). He has the same passion for photography now that he had when he started. Listening to him I could appreciate why he has made a career working with famous people: he is polite, gentle, passionated and fun to be around.
In case you need a reminder, Douglas Kirkland is one of the most famous photographers specializing in people photography and more specifically the stars. He has photographed just about anyone in the film industry.
The images he took of Marilyng Monroe are one of the best images ever taken of her. They were made when Douglas was still a young photographer. During the shoot, Marilyn asked everyone to leave the room so she could be just with Douglas. Douglas related how he felt being along with Marilyn Monroe, with no clothes and just behind the bed sheet:
“I was just trembling and the only way I could manage the moment was to focus in the camera and take pictures”.
The image heading this post was Marilyn’s favorite from the shoot:
“she liked this image because the pillow symbolized a man … and she looked like a girl that truck driver would like to be bed with”.
You will find more information about Douglas Kirkland and the photographs of Marilyn here. In that site there are several videos that are very interesting to watch. To look at the images of Marilyn go here.
Angelina Jolie asked Douglas Kirkland to take some images like the ones he took of Marilyn. You can appreciate the similarity of the style.
“My first camera was the family’s Kodak Brownie,” he said with pride. “It used 116 roll film—eight exposures to a roll—and every roll lasted for a month or two. Photography was different back in those days—each picture was regarded as being important. I remember when I was five or six, how the whole family lined up for a picture. My parents had great, glowing respect and love for every picture they took.”
“I remember rocking the developer tray and watching in amazement as the first print came up,” he said, recalling the first time he’d ever printed a photograph. “I made a darkroom in my bedroom at home. I bought the chemicals from a mail order catalog, read a book, and set up a card table. I built an enlarger using a coffee can to hold the light bulb. I had an old Argus A2 which had a removable back. I locked the shutter open and used the camera lens for the enlarger. It was crude, but I was enlarging pictures. That was back in the late 40’S. It was the biggest thrill when I rocked the tray for the first time and saw that first print come up. I thought I would never experience anything as thrilling as that moment.”
“But then, forty years later in 1991,” he continued, “I visited the Center for Digital Photography that Kodak had set up. I used a Mac computer and Photoshop—I think it was version 2.1—and I felt that same exhilaration all over again when I saw my images on the screen. I just couldn’t believe what I could do on that computer—I had expected it to look like a dot matrix or something worse. Soon I was using a Kodak dye sub printer—which was quite expensive but delivered extremely high quality.”
“I wasn’t trying to be clever,” he explained. “But I had been using computers for a long time. I had an Osborne. Then I got my first Mac in 1985. And I had a DOS computer. Computers provided another way of handling my images.
“I love taking pictures,” he went on, “I love taking them, but making them—handling them—that’s a very special part.” The difference between “taking” pictures and “making” pictures? He explained it as follows.
“Taking an image is just the first part,” he said. “After you acquire the image you must get into the next generation of work—you carry it to another stage, another level. This used to be done in the darkroom but now it’s done on a computer. Taking the picture with a camera is Part One. Then Part Two is the editing and selection process and finally making it complete using your computer and printer.” – Douglas Kirkland