DPP Home Profiles Douglas Kirkland - A Conversation With The Man

Monday, January 7, 2008

Douglas Kirkland - A Conversation With The Man

Douglas Kirkland is one of the great masters of photography. Today, he continues to shoot and spends time speaking to students and up-and-coming photographers around the world.

Digital Photo Pro: What are the challenges that you have to contend with at this point in your career?

Kirkland: We've had projects that have come to us where they first offered it to another person, but they eventually said, “Let's get Kirkland to do it.” So, we're hired and the art director says later, “We didn't know that you would do our work for us. We thought you were too big.” It's funny that you get to the point where they're afraid to talk to you. Isn't that weird?

Digital Photo Pro: The false belief is that after you've reached a certain level of success, you don't have to worry about having to get work. At this point, is it all coming to you?

Kirkland: When I pick up the camera, I still feel like I'm on trial every time, like I had never taken a picture. I can't rest on my laurels. I can't say that I have all of this behind me and therefore I can't go wrong. Questioning myself is one of the things that I do after every assignment or shoot. I think about what I did right and what I did wrong. You learn a lot about your shooting in that way and about yourself.

Digital Photo Pro: The diversity of your work is amazing, but unlike many photographers, I can't really point to a certain element that I can call your “style.” What do you believe that is?

Kirkland: What is Doug Kirkland's style? There is no Douglas Kirkland style. I can't see it. It hasn't been done intentionally. If you see something in my portraits, it might be that I'm very connected to my subjects. I'm not afraid to look someone in the eye and talk to him or her while I shoot. That may be my style, but I'm not going to define that as such. I'll let other people discover what my style is.

Digital Photo Pro: Part of that learning process has been your adoption of digital. Many photographers who were your competition dropped out when digital arrived. What was its appeal to you?

Kirkland: When I came into it in 1991, people thought I was wacko. In fact, a group of photographer friends came up to me and said, “This has got to stop. Don't you know that you're going to help destroy photography with this?” Well, that was ridiculous. I'm not big enough to stop digital. People get distorted ideas and it goes back to what you were saying at the beginning. They feel so much safer with what they know, or what they know that they can hold on to. And the idea of something new and elusive is very frightening.

Digital Photo Pro: One of the most challenging, if not frightening, issues faced by photographers is licensing, particularly in the entertainment industry, where photographers have increasingly been pressed to surrender some, if not all, of their rights to their own images. What do you make of that?

Kirkland: I honestly can't give you a clear answer because sometimes I do things that, established as I am, I wouldn't have been able to if I was beginning. I keep all my rights, but there are certain times when I'm working on a specific project where I don't keep them all. For the movie work that we do, we write up the contract and they either accept it or reject it. We have the right to use the work for our own promotions and shows, and they have the right to exploit the images for their own promotions of the film.


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