Picks and Pans Review: Light Years: Three Decades Photographing Among the Stars

updated 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Douglas Kirkland

Kirkland spent the month of April 1965 on assignment (and expense account) in Paris trying to wangle a photo session with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, then the world's most celebrated couple. In May, Taylor, whom he had shot before, relented, saying, "Come on, Richard. Let's get this thing over with so this poor bastard can go home."

Photographing movie stars ain't what it used to be. Both the stars and the markets for the pictures have changed in the past 30 years. Kirkland, whose portraits of 94 major celebrities (including fashion designer Coco Chanel) make up this worthy coffee-table book, says that in the '60s one out of every four Americans skimmed LIFE and Look, and stars were as desperate to make the cover of those weeklies as they were to nab an Oscar. Assignments, he says, rarely took less than two weeks, and he'd hang out with such stars as Brigitte Bardot, Judy Garland and Jeanne Moreau in between shooting sessions with them. Now, 30 years later, LIFE is a monthly, Look is dead, and editors at the smaller-circulation magazines that have replaced them "are less interested in "true pictures" than in surprising ones," says Kirkland. "They expect you to process a subject as efficiently as possible, rather than to explore a character in any depth." Kirkland clearly mourns the passing of those good old days, and given the prime shots so well displayed here, who can blame him? Of special-note arc Monroe amid silk sheets ("wholesome, friendly, and ordinary"), an elegiac shot of an aging Mary Pick-ford beside her Pickfair pool ("This location was probably going to be her last"), Ann-Margret hanging precariously from the railing of a Las Vegas hotel balcony and an enigmatic Debra Winger ("There was no containing her or predicting what she'd do next"). Of almost as much interest as the pictures are Kirkland's accompanying captions, which tell what happened during the shoot, or, in some cases, what didn't. Robert Redford clearly falls into the latter category, since Kirkland's picture of him reveals little, and his caption describes Redford as "strangely uncomfortable facing a still camera."

Also worth noting is the clearheaded, informative introduction by Judith (Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller) Thurman, a welcome relief from the sycophantic love letters that normally precede such volumes. (Thames and Hudson, $45)

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