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Marilyn Monroe to star at Photography Museum's new Helsinki digs

Nestled in a Helsinki shopping mall, the K1 exhibition space is meant to draw a mass audience.

Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe in a photo for Look magazine, taken by Douglas Kirkland in 1961. Image: ©Douglas Kirkland/Photo Op

On Thursday the Finnish Museum of Photography will open a new exhibition space in the heart of downtown Helsinki featuring shots taken of the mid-20th century's iconic movie star Marilyn Monroe and legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel.

All 150 of the pictures to be displayed at the K1 museum exhibit were taken by Douglas Kirkland. As a staff photographer for Look magazine, Kirkland gained widespread attention after his photographs of Monroe and Chanel were published in the early 1960s.

The 85-year-old Kirkland currently lives in Los Angeles, but during his career went on to photograph a long list of celebrities, including Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and Michael Jackson, to name just a few.

The debut exhibit will only include shots that Kirkland took of Monroe and Chanel, whom the museum described as "iconic women who developed a deep understanding of the power of vision and gaze."

"In the pictures, you can see the connection between the photographer and subject was created and grew. Kirkland was clearly able to gain his models' trust and got them to relax," Elina Heikka, the museum's director said.

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Coco Chanel ja Douglas Kirkland
Coco Chanel and photographer Douglas Kirkland. Image: ©Douglas Kirkland/Photo Op

There were plans for the octogenarian to be present at the exhibit's opening, but due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic he was unable to attend.

"Douglas Kirkland is one of the world's most prominent photojournalists. The beginning of his career coincided with a period when photojournalism was basking in a golden age. That's when magazines often commissioned extensive photo reports," Heikka explained.

When Kirkland first set out to photograph Monroe for a spread in Look magazine's 25th anniversary issue in 1961, he was asked to take "the hottest pictures you can imagine" of the biggest superstar of the day. But Marilyn was late to arrive at the studio Kirkland had arranged for the shoot, a habit the star's manager told him happened all the time.

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Douglas Kirkland kuvaa Marilyn Monroeta
During Douglas Kirkland's first photo shoot of Marilyn Monroe. Image: ©Douglas Kirkland/Photo Op

Monroe eventually did arrive, radiant and cheerful in a moment Kirkland later described as exceptional, saying that it seemed as if she glowed a bright white and was somehow detached from the floor.

As the shoot became more intimate and Monroe began "seducing" the young photographer, Kirkland said that he cleared the studio of assistants to prevent further embarrassment for himself. Then the photographer climbed and strapped his legs around a stairway railing, taking snapshots of the star as she was sprawled on a bed.

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Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe, shot from above by Douglas Kirkland. Image: ©Douglas Kirkland/Photo Op

However, when Kirkland next met the superstar, he said that she was like a different person - sad and depressed, like a shell of the woman he'd first gotten to know.

Kirkland said he could not believe the news when he first heard that "his" Marilyn - whose real name was Norma Jeane Mortenson - had died of a barbiturate overdose in 1962 at the age of 36.

In order to photograph the fashion design icon Coco Chanel, Kirkland spent three weeks in Paris, but it took him some time to gain her trust. Even after spending weeks with her, Kirkland said he never saw her without a hat on her head.

The series of photos he took of Chanel on exhibit in Helsinki shows a fashionable but strong woman who wasn't afraid to pick up a needle and thread, often with a cigarette dangling from her mouth.

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Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel wearing her ever-present hat, smoking a cigarette. Image: ©Douglas Kirkland/Photo Op

Kirkland also worked as a still photographer in the movie industry on more than 150 feature films including Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Sophie's Choice and Saturday Night Fever.

The Museum of Photography will continue operating at its Cable Factory location in the city's Salmisaari district. Meanwhile, exhibits at the K1 facility - located in the downtown Kämp Galleria mall - will emphasise popular art, according to the museum.

The exhibit "Douglas Kirkland: Coco & Marilyn" is scheduled to run from 20 August to 20 December, at the K1 museum, Kämp Galleria, Pohjoisesplanadi 33, Helsinki.

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