Hollywood photographer Douglas Kirkland finally gets show at home in Canada

Marilyn Monroe. Charlie Chaplin. Audrey Hepburn. Coco Chanel. Renowned Hollywood photographer Douglas Kirkland has shot many famous faces. Now, the Toronto-born photographer finally gets an exhibition of his work at home.

At 81, Toronto-born photographer comes home for an exhibition of his famous celebrity snaps

Marilyn Monroe. Charlie Chaplin. Audrey Hepburn. Coco Chanel. Douglas Kirkland has captured many famous faces and, now, the Toronto-born photographer finally gets an exhibition of his work at home. (Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy Izzy Gallery)

Douglas Kirkland made his career photographing the famous — and became famous doing it. But although he ranks among Canada's best known photographers, he's never had a show in his native land until now.

He's captured portraits of such celebrated subjects as Charlie Chaplin, Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe.

A gig photographing Audrey Hepburn in Paris led to Douglas Kirkland meeting his wife, Françoise. They've now been married for 50 years. (Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy Izzy Gallery)

Surprisingly, he credits his Canadian upbringing for his success working with famous faces.

Photographer Douglas Kirkland poses with some of his gear. (Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy Izzy Gallery)

"I think it has something to do with being raised in Ontario, with real people," he told CBC News during an interview at the Izzy Gallery.

The Toronto gallery is hosting an exhibit featuring large format prints of some of his most iconic works. 

"I just try to be honest with everybody, as I am here with you today. You shouldn't try to be something you aren't," said the 81-year-old Kirkland. 

"You have to be honest with people and hopefully they will be honest with you. And that's where all this work comes from."

'Could you imagine what a young man like me was thinking?' Kirkland recalled about his sensual photo session with Marilyn Monroe. (Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy Izzy Gallery)

Included in the Toronto exhibition are images from one of Kirkland's most renowned gigs: his 1961 session with Marilyn Monroe, which took place just months before her untimely death.

The Canadian photographer known for his celebrity portraits recounts the story behind his famed 1961 shoot with Marilyn Monroe to CBC's Deana Sumanac-Johnson. 1:39

Kirkland recalled how, as a young photographer, he went to meet the movie star in her apartment to discuss ideas for the photo shoot. 

"She said: 'I know what we need. We need a bed, a white silk sheet, Dom Pérignon champagne and Frank Sinatra records. We don't need anything more. And I'm going to be in that bed with nothing on!'  

"Could you imagine what a young man like me was thinking?" 

That session produced several images that count among the most iconic shots of the much-photographed screen starlet.

Angelina Jolie, who Douglas Kirkland photographed in Vancouver in 2001, told him she was a fan of his 1961 Marilyn Monroe images. (Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy Izzy Gallery)

For that, Kirkland credits the sexual energy in the room that emanated from his subject.

"She was just under this white silk sheet, nothing on. And I'm a kid from Fort Erie!"

Kirkland's big break

Born in Toronto in 1934 and raised in Fort Erie, Ont., Kirkland got his start working for local newspapers before moving to New York.

There, he landed a job with Look magazine, which then had a circulation of seven million. His big break came when he was sent along with a journalist interviewing Elizabeth Taylor to try to coax the screen siren to pose for his camera.

'Could you imagine what it would mean to me?' A young Douglas Kirkland, then newly hired by Look magazine, managed to convince Elizabeth Taylor to pose for him. (Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy Izzy Gallery)

"I went over to her at the end of the interview and took her hand," he recounted.  

"I said: 'Elizabeth, I'm new with this magazine.' Waiting, waiting. Then I said: 'Could you imagine what it would mean to me if you give me an opportunity to photograph you?' And these photographs became the beginning of my career photographing celebrities."

Kirkland's subjects also extended beyond Hollywood. Here, he captured former U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson, his ambassador to the United Nations. (Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy Izzy Gallery)

Soon, Kirkland had assignments photographing Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren and more.

He has also shot stills on more than 100 movie sets, from The Sound of Music to Saturday Night Fever to Titanic to The Great Gatsby

Kirkland shot actor Jack Nicholson in 1975, the same year that saw the release of the classic film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. (Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy Izzy Gallery)

His work is featured at the Smithsonian, the U.K.'s National Portrait Gallery and in many other permanent collections.

Douglas Kirkland A Life in Pictures is on display at Toronto's Izzy Gallery until June 30.

Coco Chanel insisted that Douglas Kirkland photograph some of her fashion designs and show it to her before she would allow him to shoot her. (Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy Izzy Gallery)

About the Author

Nigel Hunt

Arts producer

Nigel Hunt is a longtime CBC News producer covering the arts beat. Previously, he served as a magazine writer and editor.

With files from Deana Sumanac-Johnson