The great Canadian radio broadcaster Peter Gzowski once asked another Canadian icon, Pierre Berton, when he knew he had finally “made it” as a writer. The quick-witted scribe responded without missing a beat: “When your name appears on the cover larger than the title.”
By Berton’s measure, or any other measure for that matter, Canadian photography icon Douglas Kirkland has been climbing the ranks of greatness since he left his home on the shore of Lake Erie in 1956 for the not-so-bright lights of Richmond, Virginia.
A Life in Pictures: The Douglas Kirkland Monograph, published by Glitterati Incorporated, is a tome of pics-and-prose where Kirkland reveals all. With a career spanning more than six decades of photographing the who’s who in the world of film and fashion, there is much to reveal.
Whatever your age, you will find some of the most recognizable faces of your generation: Elizabeth Taylor (1961), Farrah Fawcett (1976), Pope John Paul II (1982), Leonardo DiCaprio (1997), Kirk Douglas (2009) and George Clooney (2012). For more name dropping, how about: John Lennon, Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, Ringo Starr, President John F. Kennedy, Orson Wells, Sean Connery, and, of course, there’s Marilyn Monroe.
Mr. Kirkland has also worked on some of the greatest films of all time producing stills and publicity photos for The Sound of Music (1965), Moulin Rouge (2001), The Great Gatsby (2013), Titanic (1997), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Out of Africa (1985)—more than 160 films in total.
Yet A Life in Pictures is so much more than famous stars and movies. The student of photography can study the works of this master photographer to see why he has been identified as an artist who has “shaped contemporary culture through his exceptional eye and incomparable lens.” To examine his body of work is to understand that Mr. Kirkland doesn’t just create a portrait, he captures the character of the person in front of his lens, and that is the essence of photographic greatness.
In the acknowledgments on page 381, in a paragraph called “Lines,” Mr. Kirkland writes, “I have always loved line and form. It runs very deep in me.” As we turn each page, we easily see this recurring theme through the way this master photographer controls the shadow in his work. His use of the diagonal line is particularly strong in his black-and-white work.
True to his personality, this book also tosses in a few surprises—some fun, others deeply moving. On pages 250 and 251, a spread of the destitute, taken in the early 1980s, brings Mr. Kirkland the visual storyteller to the foreground. On page 135, the simple lines of a lathe fence holding beach sand in place shows a fine-art sensibility, and an environmental awareness is revealed with a portrait of a dead bird on page 86. Noted Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson once said that “the camera always looks both ways.” A Life in Pictures is a testament to this idea; Kirkland’s images show his innermost emotions.
Creating great books is an art in and of itself. Much like an orchestra, all players have to be in sync. The choices regarding paper, typeface, layout and design are subtle elements that, when combined, become the conduit holding a book together. We rarely notice good design, but bad design is clear as soon as we see it. With A Life in Pictures, book designer Sarah Morgan Karp, quite frankly, nailed it with her exceptional work.
Douglas Kirkland: A Life in Pictures is a collection that will appeal to the connoisseur of art books, the photography aficionado, and those wanting a glimpse into the who’s who of Hollywood and beyond.
Douglas Kirkland: A Life in Pictures (forward by Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, released September 2013, 10×13-inch hardcover, 368 pages, 40,000 words with over 750 photographs) is available at all better book stores.