With the remarkable life in pictures that
photographer Douglas Kirkland has led, one might assume that there
would be little that could surprise him anymore. Sure, given
Kirkland's impressive bio—including such highlights as
landing his dream job of becoming a Look magazine
photographer while still in his early twenties; photographing for
Life during its golden age of the 1960s and '70s; and
working as a photographer on the sets of over 100 motion pictures,
including 2001: A Space Odyssey and
Titanic—it would be easy to mistake him for a "been
there, done that" type of guy.
But Kirkland doesn't come across that way in the least. In fact, in talking to this master photographer—who has tripped the shutter on everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Charlie Chaplin to Jack Nicholson—it's clear there's still plenty that surprises him about his craft.
And for Kirkland, a chameleon-like photographer who's tough to pin down stylistically but whose style is nonetheless unmistakable, that has been his inspiration behind the lens.
What has got his juices going of late has been the surprising power of digital and its ability to unleash a whole new set of creative forces in him. To hear Kirkland talk about it is like listening to someone who has discovered photography for the first time—not a seasoned pro whose assignments have taken him to every continent (except Antarctica) in the world.
"I really feel I have the potential to paint beautiful images with this camera," he says of his current preoccupation, the Canon D30 digital SLR, a camera he has been so blown away with, it has made him reevaluate the potential of digital photography.
"It's incredibly artistically invigorating to be able to do exactly what you want. The aesthetic reach provided to me by this camera is astounding."
PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
Kirkland was one of a handful of professional photographers picked by Canon—as part of the Explorers of Light program—to test drive the D30 before it hit the market about a year ago. The assignment? Take the camera, shoot away for two weeks, and return with the results.
As a way to challenge himself and test the equipment even further, Kirkland decided to limit himself to only one day with the D30 and to use it under the most pared down of conditions.
So instead of taking the new digital camera to a variety of exotic locales, Kirkland chose to do his shoot in more familiar surroundings—his home and studio in Los Angeles. And instead of bringing in a host of beautiful models, a bevy of stylists and makeup artists, and the inevitable army of assistants, publicists, and hangers-on, he opted for using just one model in the shoot—the Czech-born actress Eva Mikita, whom Kirkland had worked with half a dozen times before. To make things even simpler, Mikita would do her own makeup and hair for the shoot.
"The idea was, how many different variations could I do with her in one day, while using only different lighting setups and different clothing? I wanted to see how the digital camera would respond under those conditions."
According to Kirkland, the D30 held up so well, he had difficulty parting with it in the end.
"I found the camera to be so wonderful, that when Canon said they had to have it back on a certain day, I didn't want to give it to them."
Working with a "from-the-ground-up" tack, Kirkland began the shoot by having Mikita stand in front of a bare white wall in his home, with just the natural light streaming in to set the scene. "I wanted it done in an elementary way, so I started with the simplest possible situation with just daylight coming through the window."