On November 17, 1961, a 27-year-old Canadian photographer named Douglas Kirkland photographed one of the world’s biggest stars: Marilyn Monroe.
Taken for the cover of Look magazine’s 25th anniversary, the images show Monroe lying on a bed, swathed in white sheets, staring seductively at the camera.
Subsequent to this legendary encounter, the young man from Fort Erie, Ontario would become one of Hollywood’s favorite photographers.
The images of Monroe, taken less than a year before her death, would arguably be his most well-known, in a career that now spans six decades.
Shooting the stars
Kirkland started out as an assistant to Irving Penn when he first moved to New York at the age of 24.
After an early stint working for Look, he joined Life magazine as a staff photographer. He worked there in the ’60s and ’70s — an era often referred to as the golden age of photojournalism.
Known for his charming and gentle demeanor, Kirkland has served as the sole photographer on the sets of hundreds of films, from “The Sound of Music” to “Titanic.”
His extensive archive of A-list portraits includes Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Nicholson, John Travolta, Michael Jackson, Brigitte Bardot and Andy Warhol.
Over the years, his work has been exhibited all over the world, and is in the permanent collections of museums such as the National Portrait Gallery in London.
‘It’s not just me behind these photos’
Kirkland, now 82, lives in the Hollywood Hills with his wife and business partner, Françoise. They work side by side on all his shoots, exhibitions and books.
“It’s not just me behind these photos, it is both Françoise and I,” he told CNN.
Photographer Douglas Kirkland and his wife and creative partner Francoise Kirkland at their home in the Hollywood Hills.
The pair met 50 years ago in Paris on the set of an Audrey Hepburn film that Kirkland was working on at the time.
The daughter of Hepburn’s publicist, Françoise came to visit the studio one, where she encountered a handsome photographer who had just arrived from New York.
“He was so jet-lagged, he slept with his arms behind his neck and his legs propped on a desk. It gave me a chance to just look at him for 20 minutes without him even knowing,” Françoise said.
Their romance is still evident in their rapport, and it’s clear they both share a passion for beautiful imagery.
Details from the home of famed photographer Douglas Kirkland.
When asked what’s next for them both, Kirkland replies, “With whatever time I have left — being 10 or, if I’m lucky, maybe 15 years — I want to continue taking photos under any circumstance. But, most importantly, I want to be with this beautiful woman by my side.”
Françoise adds: “Douglas would shoot anything that interests him. He could build a studio, find the perfect light that surrounds him anywhere without the dependency of a team or a big production. This is why I love how he works. He hardly realizes how great of a photographer he truly is.”
‘Freeze Frame: Second Cut’
To mark 60 years in the business, Kirkland is releasing a 10th-anniversary expanded edition of one of his best-selling collections.
Featuring additional photographs and new accompanying text, “Freeze Frame: Second Cut” is a compilation of 590 photographs of intimate film scenes and candid celebrity portraits.
In addition, he is staging a new retrospective exhibition, “Douglas Kirkland: Beyond the Lens,” from April 26 to May 10 in Beverly Hills. A new project, a book of abstract alphabet imagery, will follow in 2018.
Given his extensive oeuvre, which of Kirkland’s past shoots would he do differently?
“All of them,” he said. “There is no reason to believe that the only image captured is the best you could have done. I always believe that I could have done better.”