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Matinee: Douglas Kirkland's 'A Life in Pictures' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

21 March 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the seventy-seventh in our series of Saturday matinees today: Douglas Kirkland on Photography: A Life in Pictures.

On the occasion of the publication of his sixteenth book, photographer Douglas Kirkland reflects on the importance of books. Permanence, in a word. "This is an ultimate expression for me," he insists.

Publisher Marta Hallett, Glitterati Inc., engaged him to a do a book called Freeze Frame and it took off from there, leading finally to this monograph, A Life in Pictures: The Douglas Kirkland Monograph.

This 25-minute video alternates scenes of Kirkland working on his monograph with his publisher and the book designer and Kirkland talking to us about his career as he works his way through the collection of cameras he has used.

That collection includes the camera he used to take his first photo. Outside in the cold of a Christmas day, he posed his family when he was still a child. "That click, that small click is really where my career and my enjoyment and my excitement about photography began.

He moved on to a Speed Graphic when he wasn't much older. At 15 he decides he wants to be a photographer.

He worked with Irving Penn for four months. Then he shopped his portfolio around town to the small publications like Popular Photography. In July 1960, Look hired him and "my life truly began."

In Paris, Coco Channel was an inspiration. "You can do amazing things," she told him. And her encouragement stayed with him.

He did fashion, sports and journalism for Look. Anything he wanted.

One million images. Cut to 2,500 and then to the 750 published in the book. We watch him work with book designer Sarah Morgan Karp over the Internet. Karp sequenced the photos in spreads. "The year doesn't matter, but the aesthetic does," he explains as he describes his appreciation for the unusual juxtapositions of images Karp makes.

His Hasselblad, which he considers "a family friend," was his workhorse at Look.

He was shooting fashion when he was assigned to fly to Las Vegas to shoot Elizabeth Taylor, who had not been seen in almost a year. "I got an incredible scoop," he admits.

That was the start of a new chapter in his career, taking celebrity images. Judy Garland was next. Then Marilyn Monroe.

He moved to 35mm when 35mm transparencies were the coin of the realm in publishing. He shot stills for the movies Titantic and The Great Gatsby with a Nikon SLR. He got a gig making portraits of all the Academy Award nominees, making lots of new friends, all of whom needed 8x10 glossies presumably.

Then we switch back to the book, sitting in on the print and color review. A Travolta image that's slightly too green should be desaturated a bit, he suggests.

Kirkland shows us his 8x10 Deerdorf, which he used in the studio. "You get a look on people's faces that are different than if you just held up a camera and click," he explains. It takes time. They have to hold still. It's from another era.

He used a medium format Mamiya for a special On Film project for Kodak. His Canon 5D Mark III is his current workhorse.

We see him at work on two projects after that, different challenges. Stills for magazine layout of the singer Sarah Grace and the dance stills that became Freeze Frame.

He has no intention of retiring, he says, just before we see the press proof review. The proofs, though, were printed on a different paper than the book and were unvarnished so they looked rather flat, making it difficult to evaluate them.

Nevertheless, he felt great relief when he got the printed book because "they got it right!"

Something about which he knows a little.

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