Exhibition Review: Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs
By Yotam Ponte
Although he is most well known as a filmmaker—having directed films such as “The Shining,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”—Stanley Kubrick had a career as a photojournalist, apprenticing with Look magazine starting in his late teens. “Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs,” is an exhibit being shown at the Museum of the City of New York that encapsulates the formative years of Kubrick’s career and his transition from photography to film.
A Bronx native, Kubrick primarily shot scenes of New York City streets. The exhibit displays both published and unpublished photo series that Kubrick shot for Look during his time there. He developed his cinematic style as a result of his early photography. His work appears particularly voyeuristic, with the subjects largely appearing unaware of the camera’s presence. His photographs focus on the daily lives of regular people and are based on postwar american themes.
The exhibit is organized as a timeline and tells the chronological story of a young Kubrick’s beginning in the photography world. A series created in Kubrick’s first few years working at Look titled “Life and Love on the Subway,” features the commute of everyday people. One photo in this series is of a couple sleeping side by side in a subway car, one holding the other in their arms. This photography takes the events that occur daily and captures people while unposed in their candid state. His style in photography was cinematic from the beginning—candid, yet theatrical. One of his first photographs shows a newspaper salesman appearing dejected as no one buys his newspapers. Kubrick later revealed that he pushed the salesman to appear more visibly depressed, speaking to his cinematic eye in photography.
Though most of his subjects appear unaware of the camera, Kubrick did do some portraits. These portraits, some of which have people staring directly at the camera, still appear as if they are natural and unposed. His series of photos of “Rosemary Williams—Showgirl,” includes a photograph of her standing in the kitchen pouring tea with her leg raised. In this photograph, she doesn’t look at the camera as if it is a camera—she looks almost directly at the lens as if it is another person catching her off-guard.
After showcasing his five years as a photographer, the exhibit begins to show Kubrick’s transition into the world of filmmaking with cuts from his films displayed as installments. Directly before this section, are essays written by Kubrick that explore themes of teenage love and marital issues. For these essays, he posed high school students and actors for photographs, providing a movie-like quality to the photo essays.
Kubrick photographed the way he shot film, or perhaps he filmed the way he photographed. The exhibit traces the journey that led to the development of his unique style in a way reminiscent of reel-time.
The exhibit is being featured at the Museum of the City of New York from May to October, 2018.