Before Stanley Kubrick became a world-renowned filmmaker known for his perfectionist style, he photographed life in the streets of New York. In 1945, a 17 year-old Kubrick was a published photographer, shooting photo essays for Look– one of America’s highest-circulation general interest magazines. His five year run with Look, helped start-up his film making career, by the time he left Look he had snapped a total of 27,000 photographs, and completed over 300 assignments.
Kubrick thought of photography and film making as one. “He always thought of himself as an image developer and didn’t mind whether he had a photo camera or a film camera in front of him,” said Lisa Ortner-Kreil, curator of the photo exhibition “Eyes Wide Open: Stanley Kubrick as Photographer,” which runs until July 13th in Bank Austria Kunstforum in Vienna.
Into the second half of the 1940s, photographers were still viewed as craftsmen, rather than artists. Kubrick broke the mold in that era, as he often found his identity within the subjects he would photograph, and taking pictures of the unusual rather than the typical. He had a fascination with the New York subway, and you could often find him photographing passengers between midnight and six in the morning.
Although Look often wanted pictures of actors and glamorous people, Kubrick opted for following a 12 year-old shoe shine boy named Mickey. His photos emphasized how this kid behaved like an adult, capturing his professional surroundings, how he waited for clients, and shined shoes for a living wage, but then he also intertwined into the photo essay the child-like side of Mickey, when he played with his pigeons on the roof of a Brooklyn house, the pigeons symbolizing freedom of work life.
Kubrick was drawn to the narrative, storytelling angle of stranger’s lives, he showed psychological interest in his subjects, which is what made his work as a photographer stand out from the rest and eventually led him to become one of the most important filmmakers of the twentieth century.
All of the images in the exhibition come from the archives of the Museum of the City of New York. When Look published its last issue in 1971, it donated all the negatives which included Kubrick’s to the museum and Library of Congress in Washington.
CREDIT: All images, Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York and Library of Congress