If Douglas Kirkland kept a diary of his professional life, it would read like an extended male fantasy. For the past three decades, the Canadian-born photographer has specialized in shooting the stars— especially the most alluring women in the movies. His subjects have included Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot. In 1961, when he was 27, Look magazine assigned him to shoot Marilyn Monroe, then Hollywood’s reigning siren. “I remember this white vapor, almost, that was Marilyn,” said the still-boyish-looking photographer. “She was friendly, but there was more sexuality flowing from her. She asked everyone to leave the room—she said it worked better that way. It was Doug Kirkland from Fort Erie, Ont., and Marilyn Monroe under a silk sheet, which would periodically blow off.” Kirkland maintains that Monroe invited him to join her in bed. “I was very aroused, but I didn’t,” he said. “I was first a photographer.”
The result of that assignment is a classic photo series of Monroe discreetly but sensuously covered by the white sheet. More recently, the silver-haired Kirkland has shot Melanie Griffith, Kathleen Turner and Kelly McGillis— as well as Jack Nicholson,
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. And now, the 55year-old photographer, whose work has appeared in more than a dozen prominent magazines, is receiving more prestigious recognition. Last fall, Thames and Hudson published the photographer’s first book, Douglas Kirkland’s Light Years: Three Decades Photographing among the Stars ($60). As well, the same works featured in Light Years are being showcased at New York
City’s International Center of Photography, where they will be on display until Feb. 25. The book and exhibition demonstrate how, over 30 years,
Kirkland has refined a unique style— an ability to capture something of his subject’s personality while making her, or him, look ravishing. “And that is a talent,” says actress Morgan Fair■ child, one of Kirkland’s recent subjects, “because lots of us, when we get real, we get real ugly.”
Last week, Maclean’s spoke to Kirkland in his bright, airy studio, which is adjacent to the spacious Hollywood Hills bungalow where he lives with his second wife and business manager, Françoise, 46. He had been preparing for a daylong photo session with British actress Rachel Ward. Her new movie, After Dark, My Sweet, is scheduled for a summer release, and the distributors wanted some eye-stopping publicity photographs. Kirkland took time out to reminisce about his career—and to disparage the current state of celebrity photography.
In the old days, Kirkland said, he could get to know his subjects well. He would spend days or weeks with them, eating, talking and even, Kirkland hinted, occasionally having affairs. “We
were striving in the Sixties to tell it as it was and show it as a photograph,” he recalled. In 1965, he travelled to Mexico to spend several weeks shooting Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau, who were there filming Viva Maria. On a few occasions, he and Bardot indulged in some latenight carousing. The photographer describes her as “a very playful thing—always a party.” But his interaction with celebrities has not always been lighthearted. In 1969, he asked Swedish-born actress Ann-Margret to pose on a Las Vegas hotel balcony.
“She leaned over a little further, and I saw a strange look come over her,” he said.
“She talked about the Swed-
ish suicide rate being the highest in the world. I reached out and grabbed her.”
Now,, however, Kirkland can rarely get enough time with his subjects. In fact, he says that he is lucky to get one day, and his studio is often filled with press agents who routinely censor their clients’ photos. After taking pictures for 45 days during the filming of Out of Africa, Û starring Meryl Streep and
1 Robert Redford, only 20 of
2 his images were approved for i publication. The rest were g destroyed.
^ Kirkland’s obsession with £ photography began early on. g The son of Morley Kirkland, 9 who owned a tailor shop, and £ his wife, Evelyn, Kirkland be-
gan taking pictures before he reached his teens, developing film in a makeshift darkroom in his bedroom closet. Photography was one of the few things that he could do well. “I was the biggest kid in my class, held back twice—the biggest, dumbest kid,” he said. He discovered later that he suffers from dyslexia, a disability that makes reading difficult. After studying photography at a Buffalo, N.Y., high school, he went to work at The Evening Tribune in Welland, Ont., near Fort Erie. “I shot tea parties, lots of tea parties, sporting events,” he recalled.
In 1960, Kirkland, then responsible for a wife and two children, got his first big break when New York-based Look magazine hired him. He soon learned to be persistent. A year after joining the publication’s staff, he was assigned to shoot a reluctant Elizabeth Taylor. “I said, ‘Elizabeth, do you know what it would mean to my career to take a photograph of you?’ She thought about it, looked up and said, ‘Okay.’ ” He got the cover of Look.
Yet Kirkland says that he would like to be known as more than a celebrity photographer. He is currently preparing another book that will include pictures of physicists, astronomers, windmills and street people—“the type of photographs a photographer would show his friends,” he said. For Douglas Kirkland, it is the art of photography, and not the lustre of the subject matter, that really counts.
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