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Douglas Kirkland, Photographer of Celebrities, Dies at 88

The Canadian passed away on October 2nd. Blind looks back on the career of a man who photographed the intimacy of cinema and fashion stars.

Marilyn Monroe lying on the bed. The smile of an angel wrapped in silk, captured by the eye of a young photographer. Douglas Kirkland liked to tell this unreal meeting. Blind talked with the Canadian photographer in 2019 at the GADCOLLECTION gallery*, in Paris, for his exhibition entitled “My Loves”.

His loves were the indomitable Brigitte Bardot playing cards, a cigarette hanging from her lips, angelic Marilyn Monroe, Naomi Campbell… All the icons of cinema and fashion appeared in front of Douglas Kirkland’s camera. His death on October 2, at the age of 88, caused great emotion in the world of photography.

Farrah Fawcett. © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery
Farrah Fawcett. © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery

Disciple of Irving Penn

Born on August 16, 1934 in Toronto, Canada, Douglas Kirkland discovered photography as a child, through the pages of LIFE magazine. His first models were his family and friends. He photographed family celebrations, birthdays… sharpening his eye. The young Kirkland, in his twenties, then moved to the United States where he worked for a studio. 

Fascinated by the work of Irving Penn, he tried his luck and asked the famous photographer to become his assistant. “I learned a lot from him. I was impressed. He was everything I wanted to be. I learned from him how to tell a story,” he confided to Blind in Paris, with his broad smile and deep blue eyes. 

Faye Dunaway and Douglas Kirkland © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery
Faye Dunaway and Douglas Kirkland © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery

Then began a career for Look magazine. Then quickly, Kirkland became the favorite photographer of stars. He immortalized more than 600 celebrities, and was the photographer on the sets of the greatest masterpieces of the 7th art, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey or Titanic

What animated Douglas Kirkland was the meetings, the stories, the intimacy created within the studio, the time of a moment. “I am interested in the people I photograph”, he liked to repeat.

Marilyn Monroe, DiCaprio, Coco Chanel… 

Revealing the intimacy of the greatest celebrities through their look, revealing their fragility, was the formidable talent that emerged from Kirkland’s photos. His most emblematic series remains that of 1961 and the fifty or so iconic photos of Marilyn Monroe in those silk sheets. 

Marilyn Monroe. © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery
Marilyn Monroe. © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery
Marilyn Monroe. © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery
Marilyn Monroe. © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery

“I was in awe. I was trying to calm down,” he confided. He would spend three days with the icon. A photo of the making-of shows him perched on a balustrade, the feet half in the void, taking in photo since his perch Marilyn, lying on the bed. A unique moment in the life of the photographer. This resulted in an unforgettable series and a reference book: An Evening with Marilyn.

In Mexico City, on the set of the film Viva Maria! , directed by Louis Malle (1965), he met Brigitte Bardot. “I was the only photographer. But she did not want to work, she wanted to play. So I played with her.” Douglas Kirkland took a picture of the angel of French cinema, cigarette at the end of the lips, playing cards, sitting on a carpet. Irresistible and eternal.

Brigitte Bardot, Cards, 1965. © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery
Brigitte Bardot, Cards, 1965. © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery

For each portrait, Douglas Kirkland took the time. He was sorry to see the industry always wanting to go faster. He liked to discuss with his model, to know him, to seize all his humanity, his dignity. Whether Naomi Campbell, Audrey Hepburn, Michelle Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, Andy Warhol, Coco Chanel and so many others… 

Coco Chanel, Hands, 1965. © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery
Coco Chanel, Hands, 1965. © Douglas Kirkland / GADCOLLECTION Gallery

* Galerie GADCOLLECTION, 4 rue pont Louis-Philippe, 75004 Paris.

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