DPP Home Profiles Douglas Kirkland: The Art of Dance

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Douglas Kirkland: The Art of Dance

As one of his great personal and professional passions, Douglas Kirkland reflects on his past, present and future dance photography

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Roberto Bolle, the Etoile at La Scala of Milan and Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre
Kirkland: I photographed Svetlana Zakharova as “Gisele” in Moscow. I was doing a series of lectures and was asked if there was anyone in particular I would like to photograph. I said off the top of my head, not expecting it to happen, the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi. The next day they said, “We’ve arranged it.” I used strobes emulating stage light and a black background at a photo studio they provided me with. I shot it with a Canon EOS-1D Mark II with a 28-105mm lens.

DPP: Do you have a favorite dancer?

Kirkland: I was lucky to have seen Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn dance together at Covent Garden in London and at the Paris Opera in the ’60s, but never had the chance to photograph them. I did work with Baryshnikov a number of times, and he’s always great to photograph. Roberto Bolle blows me away. He’s the Etoile at La Scala of Milan and Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. I’ve photographed Roberto twice 10 years apart and find him an even more interesting, beautiful and brilliant dancer now than when he was younger.

I photographed an aging Fred Astaire who was wonderful. I photographed Gene Kelly. LIFE magazine assigned me to photograph Michael Jackson when he was making the Thriller video over an intense four days. It was quite a monumental music video. Videos at that time were usually a guy with a guitar under a spotlight and that was about it. It was a big step in a new direction and was tremendously exciting. Michael was very timid, very polite and very likeable. Then when he got in front of the camera, he became a different person. It would take up to six hours to do his makeup. Watching him work, to me, he was the ultimate professional, and I had an enormous respect for him. He truly knew what he was doing when he was working. In October of 2010, my new book, Michael Jackson: The Making of Thriller, written by Nancy Griffin and published in the U.S. by Glitterati and Hachette and in Europe by 5 Continents, will be released.

Kirkland describes this image, “Working on the film The Boyfriend with Twiggy, Tommy Tune and director Ken Russell in London was a great deal of fun. In this case, the scene was a lavish ‘Busby Berkeley-style’ number. Between takes, I quickly went into the center, and with the help of the assistant director, I made this picture with a 20mm lens.”
DPP: An interesting thing about how you work is that you don’t wait around for assignments, but often come up with projects such as your dance series.

Kirkland: At this time in my life, money isn’t the first priority. We have enough commercial clients and assignments to allow ourselves the pursuit of personal projects. Actually, throughout my career, I’ve always put my passion for the image before the dollar sign, although I would never allow myself to be exploited. Creating beautiful imagery is my goal. Inevitably, it comes back and pays off. As for the dance series, how can a photographer who loves creating beautiful images not love dance? But you have to control it. You have to be sensitive to it. You have to get the most out of it. Just clicking the camera as the music is moving you isn’t enough. Strangely, in some ways, you have to disconnect yourself from the music because your still photograph isn’t going to have the music. You can be misled if you get excited by the sound around you, thinking it’s better than it is. You have to have a clear mind and a clear eye.

Kirkland’s Gear
Cameras And Accessories

Canon DSLRs, lens systems and Speedlites
Mamiya RZ cameras and lens systems
Deardorff8x10 camera with Kodak lenses
Minoltaauto meter IV F and Sekonic L-758 Cine
Dynalite power packs
Litepanels 1x1 and Micro
Manfrotto tripods
Redrock Micro cinema accessories
Kodak films
Delkin eFilm memory cards
Imacon Flextight 848 scanner
Hewlett-Packard Z3200 printer
Apple Mac Pro and iMac computers
Adobe Photoshop CS4

To see more of Douglas Kirkland’s photography, visit


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