Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

Stanley Kubrick’s little-known life as a still photographer

By Kenneth Dickerman

April 13, 2018 at 6:00 AM

Most of us know Stanley Kubrick as the legendary director of some of cinema’s most significant, landmark films. When we see his name, we think of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” or “The Shining.” What most of us probably don’t know is that he started his creative endeavors as a still photographer. Even more surprising, he started down that path as a precocious 17-year-old who eventually landed a job as a staff photographer for Look magazine, the storied pictorial competitor to Henry Luce’s Life. A new exhibit opening May 3 at the Museum of the City of New York titled “Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs,” brings together more than 120 photos taken by Kubrick during that time. Cumulatively, this exhibit provides us with a glimpse of the creative force the young Kubrick was and the one that he would eventually become.

A lot of the work in the exhibition shows the young Kubrick shooting scenes that would be familiar to a young man who grew up in the Bronx; his subject matter was none other than New York City. He certainly found inspiration in the grit and grunge of the big city, replete with all of the colorful characters who inhabit it: couples on the subway, kids gathered near a hot dog cart and, of course, people lounging in parks. But the collection of photographs goes further, even showing the beginnings of his eventual transformation into a master filmmaker.

A statement released by the museum elucidates how this deeper, more comprehensive understanding of Kubrick’s career is revealed with this new showing of his early work:

“Towards the end of his tenure at Look, Kubrick shot two feature layouts for the magazine covering the boxers Rocky Graziano and Walter Cartier. Kubrick later made Cartier the subject of his first film, “The Day of the Fight.” The photographic work for Look became the storyboard for the film, enabling Kubrick to work out the scenes, camera angles, framing, and lighting. Kubrick maintained this practice of storyboarding from photographs throughout his life.”

“During this period at Look, Stanley Kubrick made his transition from photographer to filmmaker in ways both indirect and direct. Through a Different Lens explores this lesser-known but foundational part of his career and illuminates the connections between his time as a young photojournalist in New York City and the legendary director he is remembered as today.”

Here are some of the images you’ll see when you drop by the show ….

More In Sight:

12 iconic portraits of women who transformed the American landscape

An outsider’s view of New York City’s Harlem in the 1980s

The sidelines are at the center of Martin Amis’s photographs of racing in England

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.


Kenneth Dickerman is a photo editor. He previously worked as a photo editor at MSN in Seattle and TIME in New York City. Before that, he worked as a freelance photographer specializing in politics and conflict and his work appeared in The New York Times, TIME and US News & World Report among other publications.

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In Sight | Perspective

Stanley Kubrick’s little-known life as a still photographer

By Kenneth Dickerman

April 13, 2018 at 6:00 AM

Most of us know Stanley Kubrick as the legendary director of some of cinema’s most significant, landmark films. When we see his name, we think of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” or “The Shining.” What most of us probably don’t know is that he started his creative endeavors as a still photographer. Even more surprising, he started down that path as a precocious 17-year-old who eventually landed a job as a staff photographer for Look magazine, the storied pictorial competitor to Henry Luce’s Life. A new exhibit opening May 3 at the Museum of the City of New York titled “Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs,” brings together more than 120 photos taken by Kubrick during that time. Cumulatively, this exhibit provides us with a glimpse of the creative force the young Kubrick was and the one that he would eventually become.

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