Every year in January, I head to Photo LA, and have been doing this since the 90’s. While walking around and looking at the photographs, exhibitions, and books, I was dreaming that one day I would be able to take my lifelong love of books and photography and combine those loves to create books of my numerous and varied projects.
On January 18, 2014, I waited in line with dozens of people, who were waiting to get a signed copy of Douglas Kirkland’s December 16, 2013 recently released book, “A Life in Pictures : The Douglas Kirkland Monograph”. For all my photography friends, you know who Douglas is. For others, you may not know his name but you know his photographs. Yes, the iconic photograph of Marilyn Monroe draped only in a white sheet, was created by Douglas as Marilyn drank Dom Perignon and listened to Frank Sinatra. Not to mention many classic photographs such as Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Dustin Hoffman, Judy Garland with a tear rolling down her cheek, Audrey Hepburn smiling looking as if she has a secret, Ann Margaret on a motorcycle and Cher on roller skates in 1979. This legendary photographer’s book is a manifesto of his whole career. It’s his journey from a passionate teenager in Canada taking photographs with his box camera, and following his dreams to the twenty something photojournalist who worked for Life and Look magazine and had the guts to to ask Elizabeth Taylor, who was the world’s leading lady actress, if he could photograph her. He was the only photographer invited to the 1983 Michael Jackson Thriller shoot.
Douglas’s story is about the passion of a young man, the drive, dedication and hard work of following your dreams. Even though he heard comments like “Doug, I think it’s time you should start settling down and forget all this New York photography stuff”, he listened to his heart not family and friends. He is a living legend but bigger than the legend is his heart of gold.
As I made my way to the table where he was sitting, I told him about the project I was working on for 5 years. He had written in his book that a friend of his had told him that if you wanted to contact someone that you really respected , you should write a series of very earnest letters expressing your feelings for their work and your desire to meet them and that you would get through to them. Douglas wrote to Irving Penn three times before he received a response. He ended up with a job working for Mr. Penn.
After Douglas signed my book, I handed him my 1961 Rolleiflex 2.8F and asked him to make a photo of me. Then, I asked if he would look at my project on my mother who has brain damage from domestic violence, which was called “Forgiveness and Compassion” at the time. I asked him if he could help me. He handed me his business card and told me to write to him. I wrote him an earnest, heartfelt letter and six months later I was in his Hollywood Hills home along with his beautiful wife, Francoise. On his coffee table and book shelves was the biggest photography book collections I had ever seen. He spent two hours carefully looking at all my porfolios I had brought and told me when he saw “Forgiveness and Compassion”, “when you make a book on this project, I will buy one.”
Douglas helped cement my belief that you have to ask for what you want. I wrote to him three times about my Kickstarter campaign. After writing to him two times in the last month, I knew I hadn’t heard from him because he was working and it turns out him and his wife were in Rome for the premiere of his documentary “That Click” the night before!
At 3:13am, I received an email from Francoise telling me “I think you have reached your goal, Greetings from Rome. We are at the film festival presenting the documentary about Douglas “That Click” premiered last night, was a triumph.” Douglas and Francoise had generously backed my project, pushing it to its goal!
Not only did I begin photographing nearly 5 decades ago, but I have succeeded in my first Kickstarter backing successfully. I am partnering with FotoEvidence, who gave me the honor of a finalist award in the first FotoEvidence W (Women) Award. FotoEvidence is a publishing house that creates photo books to draw attention to human rights violations, and assaults on human dignity wherever they may occur. As a side note, my book editor,Régina Monfort, worked for Irving Penn for seven years.
By photographing my mother for ten years, I laid the ghost. It feels like poetry that Douglas Kirkland, the man who succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in his dream of being a photographer, and taught me to keep trying and never give up, brought my Kickstarter to the finish line with a generous backing. This story is for all the dreamers. Keep going and the longer it takes, it just means the project isn’t ready yet. Don’t give up your dreams, ever. Being able to tell my mother’s story feels as if a weight is lifted from my soul. I’ve been carrying this around since I was nine years old. One of my writing teachers, Joyce Maynard taught me to “write like you’re an orphan.” That’s one of the aims of this book, to tell the truth.
Insert showing autograph from Douglas Kirkland on his “A Life In Pictures” book: