Photographer's Forum Magazine

DOUGLAS KIRKLAND A Love Affair With Photography

Sophia Loren, Rome 1972 © DOUGLAS KIRKLAND

Sophia Loren, Rome 1972 © DOUGLAS KIRKLAND

“It’s all your fault, Ken!” exclaimed Françoise Kirkland. Photographer Douglas Kirkland chimed in, “In 2005, when you invited me to judge the student photo contest at Daytona State College in Florida, we began talking with Kevin Miller about the possibility of an exhibition. The 50-year retrospective of my work was the result.”

The exhibition, Douglas Kirkland’s 50-Year Love Affair with Photography, opened at the Southeast Museum of Photography at Daytona State College, Daytona Beach, Florida, on October 21, 2011. It is now on tour and scheduled for LaGrange Art Museum in LaGrange, Georgia (January – April 2013) and Fort Collins Museum of Art in Colorado (April – June 2013).

Kevin Miller, director of the Southeast Museum, confirmed that 2005 was when he first discussed the idea of a comprehensive retrospective with Douglas Kirkland. Conversations continued over the next three years, and the desire to work together was mutual. “Certainly Douglas and Françoise were interested in doing something ambitious,” related Miller. “The Southeast Museum was still in its older facility, and I wanted to schedule the exhibition for after our new building was open.” Then, in 2008, the financial crisis hit and knocked everyone out of the water. Actual work on the exhibition did not commence until early 2010 and took over a year.

Miller wanted a show that would fill the new museum’s expanded exhibition spaces. The result is not just a collection of 114 photographs made by Kirkland over his career; it also includes many images of him at work with his subjects. Miller recalled how easy it was working with the Kirklands. “They were so gracious. I went to their place in the Hollywood Hills, and they had everything organized and ready for me to review.”

It’s not easy to imagine sorting through hundreds of thousands of images spanning a 50-year career. Yet the spectacular exhibition showcases many of Kirkland’s most memorable photographs of actors, celebrities, fashion icons and performers. “Kevin came early one morning, and we worked all day,” The result is not just a collection of 114 photographs made by Kirkland over his career; it also includes many images of him at work with his subjects. Françoise said. “There were some images we wanted in the show, but Kevin knew what he wanted. He is very intellectual and designed the exhibition in his head. He put a twist on Douglas’ work that emphasized the portraits. When he left late that night, we had the exhibition framework set.”

Coco Chanel, Paris 1962 © DOUGLAS KIRKLAND

Coco Chanel, Paris 1962 © DOUGLAS KIRKLAND

Françoise continued, “The curator is a very crucial element in photography. Photographers tend to fall in love with their pictures and may not be the best editors of their work. Being a curator requires a trained, sophisticated and unsentimental eye. Their presentations have to be daring and unafraid to ruffle feathers. We were delighted to be working with Kevin.”

Douglas Kirkland was born in Toronto in 1934 but grew up in Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada — across the Niagara River from Buffalo, New York. As a youth, he was captivated by the photographs in LIFE magazine. Like so many others, he began photographing in high school. He broke into the business as an assistant to the legendary photographer Irving Penn. At age 24, he was hired as the youngest staff photographer for LOOK magazine.

More of this article can be read in the Spring 2013 issue.