Capturing Star Quality
Photographer Q & A
It's an understatement to say you have an illustrious career. You've photographed the most famous, fascinating and iconic celebrities in the world. How do you find those opportunities?
Your pictures are only as good as you make your subject feel. The photographer doesn't do it alone. And if you don't have your subject on your side, it doesn't happen. I was fortunate to meet Elizabeth Taylor in 1961. As I often say, I was the lucky young man—a beginning photographer—whom she gave permission to photograph her. That helped launch my career.
Tell us about your assignment as Special Photographer on the set of Baz Luhrmann's epic film Australia.
I first met Baz when I shot stills for Moulin Rouge. Years later, he asked me to collaborate on Australia. In the role of Special Photographer, I tried to capture the essence of the film and provided images for publicity and advertising. The great thing about Baz is that when you arrive, he stops everything and gets on the loud speaker to introduce you and welcome you to the set. If you're working with people you haven't worked with before, they aren't going to be comfortable with you. Once you're introduced and they understand what it is that you do, it changes everything.
What was it like working and shooting in the outback of Australia?
We filmed in an area called Kunummura, in the northern outback near Darwin Kunumurra in the northern outback near Darwin. It was in a location, so remote, even most Australians have never visited. The tropical desert was dry and dusty during the time I was there, with temperatures soaring to 38˚ C (100˚ F) during the day. The sun was the most challenging. The intensity and heat could make you physically ill.
It sounds like developing relationships with your photographic subjects is key to your success. True?
Yes, I actively cultivate a relationship—whether I work on a film or take portraits. When I photographs subjects, I try to make them feel both comfortable and like a star—even if they aren't celebrities. I really fall in love during that time, at least for a while. The ah-ha moment is when you really know you've captured the shot. It brings a sense of euphoria when you get that feeling.
Douglas Kirkland started his career at Look and Life Magazines. He's worked on more than 100 films and his iconic celebrity portraits are known all over the world. His many books include: An Evening With Marilyn, James Cameron's Titanic, Freeze Frame and Michael Jackson: The Making of Thriller 4 Days 1983. In 2010, Kirkland received the prestigious Presidents Award from the American Society of Cinematographers. His work has been exhibited worldwide and his exhibition Freeze Frame is now part of the permanent collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.