"Freeze Frame"
50 Years of Fun and Fame
February 2008

by Douglas Kirkland

What this book represents to me is a look across the history of a dreamer with the camera. I saw the instant over and over again since boyhood. Walking to school, the snowdrifts were blowing; in church on Sunday the red face of our preacher threatened us with the fires of Hell if we didn't follow the gospel to the word and I'd imagine all those images caught, locking them in time. In the early days, I remember looking at life as a series of endless and exciting "Freeze Frames." I wanted to record them and show them in my way. Photography for me has always been about interpreting people, places and events and I understand the world better looking at it through my camera.

I was raised in a small town of 7,500 people, Fort Erie, Canada. Although I still have wonderful memories of my boyhood summers swimming in the Niagara River, nothing important ever seemed to happen there. The excitement was all outside: New York, Hollywood, Europe and beyond. Would I ever have an opportunity to taste them? I yearned for travel, exploration and fantasized about the world of glamour. I didn't know the movie world but I knew the excitement from looking at Life magazine every Friday with my father or seeing the stars coming up on the screen at the Parkway Theater on Saturday night.

I was exhilarated and stimulated by the images of the word's great photographers and in my most secret dreams I aspired to be them. I bought my first camera, a Kodak Duaflex, with money from after-school chores and set up a darkroom in my bedroom closet. I remember making time exposures of the moon above the river at the age of 12. By the age of 14 I had started working at the local photo studio photographing babies, passport pictures and weddings, with an occasional assignment for the local paper, the Times Review. At 22, after a short stint in Buffalo and Toronto, I worked my way to New York and managed to get a job with the legendary photographer Irving Penn.

This was a major eye-opening experience.

My world changed drastically in 1960, when I was hired by the great American magazine Look, at the age of 25. This was an era which has often been described as "The Golden Age of Photojournalism," and I was right there in the center of it. I was young, hungry and aggressive since I felt my survival as a photographer depended on my success.

My first encounter with a movie star was with Elizabeth Taylor in Las Vegas. I looked directly into her violet eyes and said, "I'm new at this magazine. Could you imagine what it would mean to me if you gave me an opportunity to photograph you?”… A beat of silence, then she said, "Come tomorrow night at 8:30."

The photo session was a great success and was published worldwide. Thus, my career working in the movie industry was launched.

All doors seemed opened to me and everyone around me vigorously encouraged all forms of experimentation. I carried my camera through this period with a child's wide-eyed wonderment and exhilaration. I was living a fantasy and I felt my mission was to record everything, from the beat of the flower children and the fashion of the day, to the brightness and shadows in the lives of movie stars.

In 1971 the unthinkable happened: Look magazine folded. I immediately started working for Life magazine, but as the decade progressed, photojournalism as we had known it seemed to be vanishing. I loved my work so much that I found a way to adapt to the new realities. In 1974, my wife Françoise and I moved to Los Angeles and I found myself working comfortably for a number of film companies.

My editorial assignments were still there. They were from a new wave of publications and clients, who wanted a less "in-depth" look, photographed over hours rather than days or weeks. My recourse was to photograph what I was asked for, then whenever possible, stay longer and do what I felt was more meaningful. The other answer was to create my own assignments, which I still do to this day. By the end of the decade, I was very busy, having successfully reinvented myself to the demands of the times.

At the beginning of the '80s there seemed to be a lot of money, energy and excitement around in the areas in which I worked. Magazines were flourishing again. One day I'd be off to photograph my impressions of the Trans-Siberian Railway, then to Chile to work with astronomers, followed by a trip to post-Cultural Revolution China for a story on the Beijing Film Studio. It was a very exciting time, sometimes moving so fast that it was difficult to keep a clear picture of where it was all heading.

As the decade came to a close, things seemed to balance themselves more and I found it easier to determine what work I really wanted to do. A large part of that remained: photographing celebrities whom people are always fascinated by.

In the early '90s, a major change took place in my life when technology brought me into the new world of computer imaging. I embraced the process very early on while many of my colleagues thought I had gone mad and some accused me of single-handedly destroying photography. Of course now it is standard procedure and magazines tend to often run overly retouched images to please publicists and comfort the stars. I use the computer no differently than I once used my darkroom, to etch and purify lines, to lighten and darken shadows or colors, to bring them into what my mind's eye sees. Photographers have always done this; it's only the tools that have changed.

I have seen drastic waves of change in my profession from the '60s to today. I started rocking a tray in a small darkroom full of fumes and now sit in front of a large computer screen. Clients often expect to see the images immediately as they are shot.

As much as I am a promoter and user of digital technology today, nothing can replace the look of passion or pensiveness in the eyes of a subject. That comes from that delicate semi-conscious world of a photographer's relationship with his subject. And in case you wonder, I still occasionally shoot film and even work once in a while with my 8x10 Deardorff.

Many people see the latter time of their lives with darkness and sadness. I enjoy it and celebrate it as a crescendo of all the wonderful events I have been part of. Retirement is not a word in my vocabulary and has never been a consideration. How could I have more fun and pleasure than I'm having today?

"Freeze Frame" is a selection of intimate observations from my time spent working in the entertainment industry. In a career spanning more than 50 years, I've had the good fortune of working with many of the most legendary figures in the film business – stars, directors, cinematographers – frequently on the sets of major motion pictures. I've been allowed unusual access with my camera.

This is a collection of images which are very meaningful to me, some of which have never been published.

© Douglas Kirkland

Douglas Kirkland started his career at Look and Life magazines in the '60s' and '70s' "golden age" of photojournalism. He has worked on the set of over 100 motion pictures ("Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid"; "2001:A Space Odyssey"; "Out of Africa"; "Titanic"; "Moulin Rouge!" and "Australia") and his iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Nicholson, Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas, among others, are known all over the world. Some of his books include "Light Years"; "Legends"; "Body Stories"; "An Evening With Marilyn"; the best-selling "James Cameron's Titanic," and "Freeze Frame," a decade-by-decade look behind the scenes from 50 years photographing the entertainment industry, published in October 2007. He has received numerous awards, among which a Lucie for Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment Photography in 2003, The Golden Eye of Russia in April 2006 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from CAPIC in his native Toronto, Canada, in May 2006. In October 2007, Douglas received an Honorary Master of Fine Arts Degree from Brooks Institute for his deep commitment and dedication to his profession. Among his current book projects are a black-&-white volume, "When We Were Young"; "Coco Chanel," to be published in August of 2008, and "Face à Face," a book of portraits for the Fall of 2009, all published by Glitterati, Inc.

His work has been exhibited worldwide and his "Freeze Frame" exhibition at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills will be on view from January until the end of April 2008. When he is not traveling the globe on assignment with his wife and business partner Françoise, his home/studio is in the Hollywood Hills.

Visit Douglas' Web site at