Douglas KIRKLAND has been passionate about images since he was a child. Coming from Canada he started working for a small photo studio in Virginia. A few years later he met the photographer of whom he was an admirer and went to New York for the position of Irving PENN’s assistant. Despite the prominent position he obtained, Douglas KIRKLAND needed better salary to live, but Irving PENN refused to increase it. He then gave himself some time to make himself known, later he joined Look Magazine for which he got a first photo session with Elizabeth TAYLOR. This photo session was the origin of his reputation as a star portraitist. It is 1961 and it is also the year in which he photographed Marilyn MONROE. Among the most influential personalities, he will photograph Audrey HEPBURN, Brigitte BARDOT, Jack NICHOLSON and Coco CHANEL.
It was only at the age of 27 that he made the photo shoot for Life magazine that made him part of history. In 1961, he photographed the famous sex symbol Marilyn Monroe, half naked in a bed, playing with the sheets and the lens of Douglas KIRKLAND’s camera.
The artist suggested to Marilyn to show how she wanted to be remembered 25 years later. It was a very delicate, sensual and joyful series that emerges. The photographer managed to produce and capture a very intimate moment between him and the star. Marilyn’s aura and the emotional power of this series made the artist publish a book 50 years later, With Marilyn: An Evening 1961 and these photographs still make as much noise as ever.
In addition to the graphic qualities that these photographs bring out, it is a personality that stands out. Douglas Kirkland, when he tells the story of this photo shoot, humbly says that he was just a technician there. He prepared the room with white sheets, a white floor and a balcony to get a vertical view. Then Marilyn came to "create these images", these are the artist’s words. Marylin took possession of the lens, and led the photo session. As a young photographer, this photo session with such a great star taught the artist a lot. In an interview he tells an anecdote about the white sheet in which Marilyn is wrapped. The star and he had agreed on a totally white environment, but Douglas wanted to bring a little more and on the day of the session he offered Marilyn a cheese cloth. Marilyn tried but didn’t like it, she said she wasn’t that kind of girl. Fortunately, she regained control by choosing the large white sheet in the photo. Douglas concluded that a great star should be treated as such.
He also testifies that he met three different Marilyn. On their first meeting she was simple, accessible and very natural. The day of the photo session, she turned into an ultra sexy Marilyn, there was no one in the room and it was impossible to look away from her. Finally, a few days after the session, they had a last appointment to show Marilyn the pictures and there, Douglas tells us that he saw a depressed, dark person who had nothing to do with the person in the pictures. It was a very strong and memorable experience for the artist.
The most famous photos in this series are these of Marilyn taken vertically from a balcony in the photo studio. The decor is entirely white. Out of time and space, Marylin is plunged naked into a cloud of sheets. The star plays with the fabric and the cushion, with a seductive look, like an invitation to join her. She rolls in the sheets, smiles and has fun, she seems happy and fulfilled. She is an angel who fell straight from heaven. The atmosphere is bright, fresh, Marilyn’s blond hair, her fair skin and the white of the bedding, everything is immaculate and pure. Douglas KIRKLAND used a very special grain here. We feel the movement of this woman in these sheets and as a kind of voluptuous floating. It is interesting to note the central importance given to the stars look. It is not fleeing or diverted. It is very present. Marilyn is in front of the lense, looking at us to create an intimate contact. She smiles at us and amuses herself with our presence.
The artist for these prints choose large formats that allow us to enter and connect with the photo.
In this second type of photo, the lines are more assertive. Much more inscribed in space, the edges of the bed are immediately identifiable and the photos no longer have a vaporous appearance but much more real. The artist opted for a large square format with a black frame. A choice that confirms the gap between the first series and this one. It’s no longer a dream, Marilyn Monroe is right there in that bed, she laughs and looks at you.
This third selection is unique in that it illustrates the conditions under which the previous photos were taken. We see Douglas KIRKLAND and Marilyn MONROE in a photo studio around a large white bed. The artist is sometimes hung above the void to capture each movement of the star. You can feel a certain complicity. Marilyn is relaxed, focused and this is reflected in the final shots. They are printed in more intimate formats, related to the subject. They let us to have a look behind the scenes of a moment that has become mythical. You have to imagine the scene in the sixties, between 9pm and 1am, Champagne, the music of Frank Sinatra and Marylin, naked in a bed. Douglas Kirkland confides in an interview about the atmosphere and connection between him and Marilyn during this session. He describes this moment as « very hot », the star was playing his charms and a real connection is established.