For more than 50 years, Douglas Kirkland has created photographs that capture the world’s most iconic celebrities. Along with the newfound, invigorating post-war joie de vivre, photography in the 1950’s and onwards was used to chronicle and highlight the lives of celebrities, creating a new cultural phenomenon that promoted the limitless appeal of film screen actors. Prominent names dominated the star-making machinery of Western cultural consumption. Of these, the names of Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot enthralled viewers with their beauty, femininity, and their allure on the silver screen. Douglas Kirkland’s classic photographs of Hepburn and Bardot advanced the narratives of the Western women as liberated, fiercely independent individuals while extolling their everlasting beauty.
Douglas Kirkland was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1934 during the Great Depression. Growing up in a working-class family, Kirkland took his first picture, a family portrait, at ten years old. This event and his father bringing home a copy of Life magazine every Friday was a catalyst for the young Kirkland’s interest in photography. He poured over the magazine’s pictures of celebrities and world events with delight, saying:
“The images I saw carried me to a place of great photographers exploring the world, showing us their discoveries and exciting lives. It did not occur to me at the time that I would one day be one of them.”
Eventually, Kirkland would move to New York to pursue photography, and after some time, begin to photograph magazine covers. His first assignment for LOOK magazine forged a relationship with the publication that would eventually lead to Kirkland’s legendary photoshoots with Marilyn Monroe, establishing him as a noteworthy photographer and giving him the credibility and access to the biggest stars of his day.
Douglas Kirkland went on to become an award-winning celebrity photographer capturing some of the most significant figures and iconic women in the entertainment world, including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, Racquel Welch, and Naomi Campbell as well as many other major celebrities.
“Celebrities were put on pedestals partly to replace the idols that had fallen off: saints that were diminished in a secularizing age, kings, and aristocrats whose position had lost their luster. The photograph was one means of making the new objects of veneration portable and affordable, much as engravings and woodcuts on paper had disseminated the holy images in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.”
– Vicki Goldberg, The Power of Photography, Fame & Celebrity
In Audrey Hepburn with Hat and Brigitte Bardot, 1965, Douglas Kirkland’s mastery of photography captures portraits of the two icons, exemplifying the natural, arresting beauty they exuded. Kirkland photographed actress Audrey Hepburn in Paris, France, for the promotion of the film “How to Steal a Million,” directed by William Wyler. The photograph captures the unique qualities of Audrey Hepburn, her playful and flirtatious glee, the effortless grace and glamour (muse for fashion designer, Givenchy), which mesmerized the viewer. Such was the ravishing beauty Hepburn possessed that French theorist Roland Barthes wrote: “the face of (Greta) Garbo is an idea, that of Hepburn an Event.” Hepburn’s face became synonymous with style, and her presence in Hollywood films created a new standard of natural beauty that continues to influence the world today.
The blonde bombshell, “B.B.” Brigitte Bardot, considered by some as the sex symbol of the 20th century, is captured by Kirkland in Mexico City in 1965 during the filming of Viva Maria! Douglas Kirkland was brought on as a special photographer for the movie and spent time shooting Bardot and co-star Jeanne Moureau. Kirkland’s portrait of Bardot captures her natural eroticism, a picture of an unrestricted youth full of desire, evoking a sexuality not forced but felt. Bardot’s unapologetic sexuality created a force that inspired the sexual revolution of the 1960s. With a gaze that seems to look through the viewer and into the beyond, Kirkland’s photo of Bardot symbolizes the profound effect the actress would have on Hollywood censorship. Bardot’s rebellious attitude towards traditional depictions of femininity helped break down barriers for the public and society at large.
Kirkland’s photos record the icons at the heights of their fame; two young aspiring ballerinas who later became screen idols with their beauty, charisma, and strong characters, leaving an indelible imprint on the world. With the help of photographers like Douglas Kirkland, they became beacons of light in the development of the 20th century.