He's not sure if it's the superb lighting, the friendly people, good fortune, or a combination of all of the above. But whenever Douglas Kirkland travels to Italy 's most famous countryside, there's an inexplicable magic that unfolds before his viewfinder. "To me, it's the most dreamlike place in the world," he says. "It's a paradise for photographers."
Kirkland and his wife, Francoise, have been working every summer in the Tuscan region for seven years--and there's good reason they keep going back. "We've been going to this small town called Massa Marittima for the last few years, and we know the people in the town. They take very good care of us, and we have a lot of friends there," he says. "It's one of our favorite places."
Every July, Massa Marittima hosts the Toscana Foto Festival, a series of workshops, seminars, and discussions led by photographers, under the guidance of artistic director Franco Fontana. Models from all over Italy converge upon the village during the two-week imaging extravaganza to appear in front of pro lenses.
"I have a very good agent in Milan, Grazia Neri--she's the top photographer's agent in Italy," Kirkland explains. "I'm very lucky because my name has very high stock in Italy, and models will come out from Milan to be photographed. It's ideal, because they're so eager. I'll say, 'OK, we won't be shooting on Saturday,' and yet Saturday rolls around and there will be five models who show up, all made up and ready to go. They also know I'm very conscientious about sending them pictures after the shoot."
While there are quite a few great photographers who concentrate on shooting Tuscany's terrain--he cites Joel Meyerowitz as one of his top picks--Kirkland loves to photograph people. "It's sort of an embarrassment of riches," he says. "The atmosphere is so beautiful, the terrain is beautiful, the people are gentle, and the light is superb. You'll have beams of light come down from the sky like nowhere else on earth. A lot of the feeling I get in my images comes from the feelings my subjects project back to me."
Capturing the Magic
Kirkland captured some of this provincial magic for this month's Studio Photography & Design." The cover shot was serendipitous. I had worked with Leonardo, the cover model, last year," he says. "He's so good-looking. He has a very powerful face with high cheekbones. I have a friend who had just gotten married, but she still wanted a picture of him to take home! Leonardo was outside near a swimming pool. I didn't intend to photograph him. I just looked up and saw him. He had such a dramatic face, such a classic, great look. I asked him to stay still for a few minutes, and I brought a reflector in to brighten his eyes a little bit. He just looked right at me, and the picture was essentially made. That's the type of good fortune that seems to happen to me in Tuscany. The magic of Tuscany comes through my lens when I'm there."
It's also easy for the magic to come through when you're working reasonable hours, explains Kirkland: "That's another thing I love about shooting in Tuscany. I've taught in different places here in the States, and everybody wants to start at 7:30 a.m. or earlier. That's OK if you're shooting scenery, but if you're photographing people, you don't need to start that early. I prefer to start at 9 or 9:30 a.m., like we do in Italy, stop for lunch, and work into the golden hours. Plus it's always so comfortable in Tuscany--never too hot, too cold, or too humid. Tuscana, as they call it, is true heaven."
Cameras, Lenses, and Such
Kirkland's ventures into new terrains aren't just limited to the Italian countryside. "During the past seven or so years I've been shooting in Tuscany, I've moved from film to shooting totally digitally. Digital cameras have gotten so good. For me, it's like painting. If you don't get precisely what you want, you just make an adjustment."
His first foray into digital was in the early '90s, when he would scan his images and import them into his computer to make subtle adjustments. But with today's technological advances in the imaging arena, Kirkland can rely on his Canon EOS 20D and EOS-1Ds Mark II from the get-go.
"These cameras are just off the scale," says Kirkland. "Some photographers would cringe at the thought, but they really are better than film--I never thought I would say that. There's virtually no limit to the quality of digital. My Mamiya RZ67 is still very important to me, since certain clients request film and larger transparencies and it does provide a different look. As a matter of fact, I am leaving for Paris in a couple of days to continue working on a high-profile book for the luxury Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre. I will primarily use my RZ and my 8x10 Deardorff."
Kirkland 's varied lens lineup allows him to zoom in for closeups of mesmerizing male models like Leonardo, as well as go wide to capture young lovers embracing in verdant meadows.
"One of my favorite lenses is the 28-105mm. It's kind of an unorthodox lens, but I like it because it's small, light, functions well, and soft filters seem to work very well with this lens. I also use a 14mm, a 16-35mm, a 35-135mm, and a 70-300mm. The wonderful thing about those lenses--except the 16-35mm--is that I can use the same filters on them."
Thanks to Tuscany 's otherworldly illumination, Kirkland relies little on man-made lighting. "I mainly use available light there, very little strobe. I may use a reflector occasionally, but other than that, the light is all natural. I love the light so much there--it's hard to describe."
As Good As It Gets
Kirkland has plenty of other projects to keep him busy. "Hewlett-Packard has a group called Photo Influencers, of which I'm now a part," he says. "For the past three years, I've traveled to Europe wherever HP introduces new products. HP has a wonderful short-run print-on-demand press called the Indigo, so I suggested we do a 30-page book on beauty. It's going to be a pretty special book, drawing from pictures I've taken of women over the years."