DPP Home Profiles Douglas Kirkland: Master Of Italian Cinema

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Douglas Kirkland: Master Of Italian Cinema

Douglas Kirkland got a unique assignment from Vanity Fair Italy, and he turned it into a masterpiece


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Douglas Kirkland’s work has graced the pages of Digital Photo Pro a few times over the years. In this Masters issue, we focus on his recent project of re-creating iconic moments in Italian cinema, which was borne out of a job for Vanity Fair Italy. Above: La Ragazza con la Valigia

Few photographers have had more dream assignments than Canadian-born, Hollywood-based Douglas Kirkland. His familiarity around film sets and his ease working with superstars made Kirkland the obvious choice when the Italian edition of Vanity Fair decided to celebrate their fifth anniversary with an homage to Italian cinema, in which the elaborate setups resembled a movie set rather than a photo shoot. The two worlds merged perfectly under the directorship of Kirkland.


La Ciociara
Cristina Lucchini, editor of Vanity Fair Italy, wrote to Digital Photo Pro describing the shoot she had with Kirkland as “a dream come true.” She went on to say why she chose the photographer to realize her dream: “Vanity Fair loves cinema. Kirkland loves cinema. We are Italian. Douglas and Françoise [Kirkland’s wife] love Italy. The idea came up in a minute: to re-create the most famous scenes and sets of iconic Italian movies from the past with present top Italian actors and actresses playing and Douglas shooting. We watched the movies from Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Ugly, the Bad to Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita to Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist frame by frame to decide the best scenes to freeze.”

Added Lucchini, “More than 100 people worked for at least 12 hours a day—building sets, often in the same studios and locations where the original movies were shot, and renting, buying or making period clothing and furniture—to make this ambitious project a real thing. At the end, it came out to be the biggest photo shooting ever done by an Italian magazine.”

DPP: What is it about Italian cinema that makes it so unique? Their approach seems so different from the big-budget Hollywood features you’ve worked on.

Douglas Kirkland: Traditionally, it has been much more hands-on, more basic, since they had substantially lower budgets. In Italy, cinema is truly regarded as an art form and not just showbiz and moneymaking, which allows for more freedom of expression.

Ossessione
DPP: How did your assignment for Vanity Fair Italy come about?

Kirkland: My agent in Italy proposed to serialize my book Freeze Frame there. But what came out of it was even better—this idea to re-create some of the greatest moments in Italian cinema with current stars for Vanity Fair Italy’s fifth anniversary edition. We re-created 26 scenes with present-day actors from these classic films, ranging from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and 81⁄2 to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The genius behind the Vanity Fair shoot was the Italian edition’s editor-in-chief Cristina Lucchini. She conceived the whole thing and made it happen in a tour de force that was incomparable!

DPP: How did you go about matching the looks of those classic films, some of which were in color and others in black-and-white?


Ieri, Oggi, Domani
Kirkland: We would watch whatever movie it was and then use that as inspiration for the lighting. I photographed the TV screen, and I brought contact sheets of frames from the films with me into the field so I could match the light and look of the original film using strobes, hot lights and/or reflectors. It was very important to use the films as a guide rather than the original publicity stills, which were very often different from the film itself. I wanted to portray the essence of the original film. I always shot RAW, but would dial out the color in Photoshop to match the movie.

DPP: What equipment were you shooting with?

Kirkland: The Canon [EOS] 1Ds Mark III with the 24-105mm ƒ/4 was my workhorse. On Mamma Roma, originally directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini and starring Anna Magnani and Ettore Garofolo, I needed a longer lens so I switched to the 70-300mm. The 1962 film’s DP was Tonino delli Colli. We photographed our stars, Laura Morante and Federico Costantini, on location near Rome.

For some film re-creations, I used a diffusion filter. The Tiffen Pro-Mist ½ is generally my choice though I’m now testing the Schneider set of Hollywood-style diffusion filters for future use. It provides a misty look from bright bulbs or window light as in the shot of Francesca Inaudi as Monica Vitti in L’avventura. In that picture, you see the mistiness from the lamp above her head and backlit hair.


 

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