Monday, June 11, 2007
Douglas Kirkland - For Art & Glamour
Douglas Kirkland has been at the top of fashion photography for more than four decades. In that time, he has always embraced new ideas and technologies.
Douglas Kirkland is one of the true masters of his medium. He has been through more than one revolution in photography, and while those who couldn't or wouldn't adapt to the changing times were left behind, Kirkland always embraced what the world of photography offered up. That spirit of continuous renewal of vision and outlook has kept Kirkland at the pinnacle of his art.
I was fortunate to spend some time with Kirkland at his home and studio in the Hollywood Hills. Like the man, his home is unassuming. Kirkland lets his images speak for themselves without needing accoutrements to draw attention to them. His respect for other photographers is seen in the mass of books and monographs that sits in his living room.
Kirkland has been interested in Photoshop since before there was a Photoshop. In the days before digital technology, he was into heavy darkroom manipulation. Computer manipulation came online and made it possible for him to create the images that he was dreaming about as he struggled to overcome the limitations of the conventional darkroom.
Since the early 1990s, Kirkland has been learning and using Photoshop. At first, it was out of interest in what was happening with a new technology, but it quickly became apparent to him that this was the beginning of a wave that was poised to remake the photography landscape. Says Kirkland, “No one expected digital to take off so fast. Compared to technology like color film, digital evolved into the mainstream much faster.”
Today, digital technology is the rule not the exception, but even just five years ago things were different. “Art directors have gone from insisting on original film to wanting only digital files,” says Kirkland. “It's come about remarkably fast. Back then, even the people in the know didn't know. I'd talk to an art director who was supposed to be well-versed in digital and it would turn out that he didn't really know what was what.”
Today, things are different. Kirkland's clients are apt to be both knowledgeable about digital files and understanding about what they need in the files, and he's able to give them what they need, thanks to his thorough understanding of the technology.
The Photoshop revolution isn't the first one that he has gone through. When Kirkland started out in photography, the world was mostly working in black-and-white. Coming from a small town in the Niagara region of Canada, Kirkland was eager to be a Look magazine photographer. At the time, in the 1940s and 1950s, Look and Life magazines were the two big names in photography, and Kirkland wanted to be part of the glamourous life that he saw in the pages of those magazines. He was fortunate enough to attend a photography vocational high school, and following that, went to work for a local newspaper.
After a stint in Richmond, Virginia, Kirkland got his first real break when he went to New York and worked for Irving Penn. Considering Kirkland's limited experience, landing such a rare job was quite unheard of, but he was persistent in writing to Penn and happened to be in New York at a time when there was a sudden opening. The opportunity helped to shape Kirkland's view of what he wanted in a career.