Douglas Kirkland’s shining sparkling stars
Marilyn Monroe, Mary Pickford, Farrah Fawcett, Brigitte Bardot… some superb pictures by Douglas Kirkland were exhibited a few months ago at the GADCOLLECTION gallery, creating the opportunity for a great conversation with this photography legend.
By Nathalie Dassa
Over his sixty year-long career, Douglas Kirkland has come to be known as the champion of intimacy, capturing the greatest stars of the 20th century and exclusive behind the scenes footage on top film sets (2001: A Space Odyssey, Titanic) for Look and Life magazines. Above all, the Toronto-born 85-year-old, who lives in Hollywood Hills with his wife Françoise, knew how to celebrate women’s beauty by combining strength, sensuality and fragility. While Elizabeth Taylor gave him his break, he reached an apex with his photographs of Marilyn Monroe, whom he depicted dressed only in a white silk sheet, a few months before she died. Gad Edery’s prestigious gallery, GADCOLLECTION, which exhibits the greatest contemporary fashion, art and cinema photographers, has once again promoted this affable legend by displaying fifteen photographs from his stunning portfolio. Marilyn Monroe, Mary Pickford, Farrah Fawcett, Faye Dunaway, Brigitte Bardot, Naomi Campbell, Dita Von Teese and Maria Grazia Cucinotta have brightened the walls of this stunning cultural space, located in the heart of Paris. For him, “ A photo session is a seduction, a slow dance, you feel the vertigo of falling in love, and you are in love for that moment “. That’s the greatness of Douglas Kirkland.
The My LOVES exhibition is a deep journey into the world of the women who have crossed your path. How did you imagine your sessions with them?
Each session is a different adventure. I study my subjects and I have ideas on how to photograph them, but there is always an element of the unexpected, you have to open up to the universe, be ready for anything that happens and go with the flow . Marilyn was Marilyn, the Goddess. Mary Pickford let me drive her Rolls-Royce and said, “Let’s go out.” Bri [editor’s note: Brigitte] wanted to play and stay up all night dancing. Farrah Fawcett was a rebel, her agent didn’t want her to any nude shots in bed but she did it because she wanted to. Naomi Campbell was a professional. She came to the studio after working in Milan during Fashion Week. Faye Dunaway recited poetry while I was photographing her in Treviso, where she was having a romantic relationship with Marcello Mastroianni. Dita Von Teese delicately revealed her breast to me at the end of our session like the refined burlesque dancer she is.
Over the span of your sixty-year career, your portraits show them as we remember them: luminous beauties, natural, very simple. How do you work with this light that you capture in their gaze, their posture and their emotion?
The most important thing is the connection between me and my subject. If a woman feels beautiful, she will be beautiful. She has to surrender and trust me. I will never keep any unflattering images. I don’t want to exploit anyone. I want everyone to be beautiful, they know and feel it. Some portraits use natural lighting, others have strobes, candles or other light sources. It’s all about atmosphere and flexibility. The equipment is second nature. Everything must be in place & ready to be changed without notice. You break the focus and the mood if everyone starts fiddling with lights, cameras, hair and makeup.
Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel… Thanks to these iconic women, you became a photography giant. What have you learned about yourself and your work?
I am 85 years old and still have a part of my small town of Fort Erie (Canada) in me. I think I have evolved a lot and have never stopped improving, but I believe humility is important. You have to keep trying and exploring; you are only worth as much as your last picture. I want to continue working. I don’t consider myself to be an icon, although it’s flattering to be seen as such, and also a bit embarrassing. I see the world better through my camera.
What did Marilyn tell you about her pictures?
She spoke of herself in the third person, saying to me, “This woman, this woman here is the kind of woman every man would want to be in this bed with! “
Capturing the essence of Hollywood and French icons, what are the differences between yesterday and today?
Every woman is an icon for me, not just a movie star. I love women, their company, their spirit, their beauty. I love them. The world of cinema was simpler before, because people were less watched and protected, and we had more time. It is more difficult to achieve a sense of intimacy in a few hours’ time than in a whole week. But I still feel that I can communicate with people, it becomes very intense in a short time. You have to adapt or else people forget you.
When you started up, did you have an idea of what you wanted to capture through these women? What was the spark?
I was impatient, I was hungry, I was like a young lion who wanted to succeed. I did not know it would happen. I just wanted to take pictures. When Elizabeth Taylor allowed me to photograph her that night in Las Vegas, she gave me a chance and unknowingly determined what the rest of my life would look like. I am very grateful to her and to her generosity.
How do you see your career?
I am still amazed at the attention I continue to get and receive. I never stop being glad when I see people enjoying and collecting my photos. It makes me very happy and gives me the feeling of a life well lived!
To read more about Douglas Kirkland and his series on Marilyn Monroe and Coco Chanel: Musée de la Photographie – Photographic exhibitions
His representative in Europe : Gad Edery
4 rue du pont Louis-Philippe
Featured photo: Douglas Kirkland – Brigitte Bardot – GADCOLLECTION Gallery
Portrait of Douglas Kirkland by Owen Roizman – 2011