The Douglas Kirkland Photoshoot
On View Friday, July 12–Sunday, September 15, 2013
Marilyn Monroe was the idealized American woman, seductress and unstable icon. These many faces were captured in 1961. Douglas Kirkland, a 27 year old photographer working for Look magazine, met with the actress on three occasions. The focus of the meetings was a photo shoot with Marilyn, which captured her in all of her complexity. Little did Kirkland know less than a year later Marilyn would be dead.
The opportunity for the young photographer developed out of his audacity and boldness. This was his trademark at Look. He was living the dream of many photographers. His track record included getting, unreachable stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich.
After renting a Hollywood studio, with no clear idea of what might take place, Kirkland was lead down a path first paved by the wholesome Marilyn then guided by the star. The complete professional at this point in her career, Marilyn established the scene for Kirkland: a single bed with white silk sheets. She understood her audience and what they wanted.
On the day of the shoot, she asked all of the assistants to leave and let the photographer and his model work alone. This set the stage for an interpersonal play that makes this work unique. An intimate engagement transpired the interaction of one person and another, the flirting with camera and photographer, communicated the starlet icon to the world. Wrapped in bed sheets and contorting for the viewer, Marilyn appears to reach back through her career and captures the allure that ignited her start.
What then was revealed in her expressions and during a post shoot wrap-up was the tortured Marilyn. Unsure and full of doubt – what was apparent were the struggles that the world’s idealized beauty faced though out her career. It was this finally revealed persona – pressured by the expectations of her positions – that later would give context to our post-mortem understanding of the star.
So many portraits of women even today present them in sexualized diminutive roles. What stands out about this work 44 years later is that Marilyn, ‘the model’ is in control. She set the stage for a feminism that mixed beauty and power.
From early in his life Douglas Kirkland aspired to be photographer. When frustrated in the public schools of Fort Erie, Ontario it was recommended that he enroll in the public school system in Buffalo, NY just across the border. It was in Buffalo that he was allowed to focus on his passion of photography.
He later joined Life Magazine during the golden age of 60’s/70’s photojournalism. Among his assignments were essays on Greece, Lebanon and Japan as well as fashion and celebrity work, photographing Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich among others.
Through the years, Kirkland has worked on the sets of over 100 motion pictures. Among them, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Out of Africa, Titanic, Moulin Rouge and Australia, Baz Luhrmann’s epic starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.
Some of his books are Light Years, Icons, Legends, Body Stories, An Evening With Marilyn, the bestselling James Cameron’s Titanic, Freeze Frame, a decade by decade look behind the scenes from 50 years photographing the entertainment industry and Coco Chanel, Three Weeks.