DPP Home Profiles For Art & Glamour - Douglas Kirkland

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.

It was a time when the Penn studio was attracting the brightest stars in the fashion universe. On a daily basis, the editors of Vogue, movie stars and fashion icons would stream through Penn's studio and Kirkland was poised to meet all of them. Six months later, at the end of his tenure in the studio, Kirkland left New York, realizing that the world of photography was much bigger than he had ever imagined and he knew he wanted to be a part of it.

After leaving New York City, Kirkland moved to the Buffalo area. While his experience in the Penn studio was priceless, Kirkland had a family to support and the wages for a studio assistant in New York have never been especially high. This period was the beginning of C-print technology. Very little attention was being paid to Type-C technology in the “serious” photography world. Out of an interest to learn more about it, he began to immerse himself in color photography. The seeds of the color revolution were just beginning to sprout and Kirkland was set to take full advantage of it.

The adaptation of color in fashion photography actually was fairly slow. Of course, there had been color films and transparency films for years, but it hadn't trickled down to the fine-art and magazine markets. There was a general resistance to the look and there were very few photographers who could “see” in color. Kirkland's experience with the new materials made him stand out among his peers.

Upon his return to New York, Kirkland started to do freelance work for what he considered to be overlooked publications. These were small magazines that weren't on the radar screens of the establishment in the photographic community. Kirkland had several things going for him: He was pitching publications that were mostly ignored, he brought experience and an eye for color, and his enthusiasm for the work was seemingly boundless. Says Kirkland, “Photography was what was important to me. I just wanted to shoot and I was very enthusiastic about working with these publications.”

He may have started out with lesser-known publications, but it wasn't long before the biggest magazines in New York noticed his work. In 1960, Look magazine was searching for a new staff photographer and asked Kirkland to apply for the job. Even though he was competing with a very high pool of talent, he won out and joined the Look staff.

Working for Look was yet another revelation for Kirkland. Suddenly, he had the latest and greatest photography gear at his disposal and he had an unlimited supply of film. “Being able to shoot constantly was critical for my learning,” he says. “Today, digital photography gives everyone this ability.”

Although Kirkland had experience with color photography, it was still fairly new, so being able to shoot all the film he wanted enabled Kirkland to hone his skills to a fine edge.

There's more to being a great fashion photographer than learning about color materials, though. One of his early assignments was to persuade Elizabeth Taylor to be photographed for Look. It was a daunting challenge; this was at a time when she had absolutely refused to be photographed for magazines. Kirkland met Taylor and through a combination of charm and a gift for persuasion, he convinced her to step in front of the lens. After Taylor, there were a number of high-profile assignments that took Kirkland around the world to photograph fashion icons. He spent weeks at a time in Europe where he developed an appreciation for languages and cultures. These influences would come to play a major role in his photography.


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