Before Stanley Kubrick’s critical breakthrough with 1957s Paths of Glory, even before his debut feature Fear and Desire and documentary short films, Stanley Kubrick was, first and foremost, a photographer. Aged just 17 when he started working professionally in 1945, Kubrick became a staff photographer for Look magazine, shooting feature stories all around New York City about the daily life of citizens.
The now-iconic film director quickly became well-known for his story-telling in photography, publishing A Short Story from a Movie Balcony in April 1946 which detailed a quarrel between a man and a woman, during which the man is slapped in the face. It would be one of the director’s very first methods of storytelling, and foreshadowed his later interest with emotional desire.
As Kubrick became more trusted, the variety of his work broadened too, as he was sent to Portugal in 1948 to document a travel piece, and was also sent to Florida to cover the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The following year, Kubrick would publish a photo essay “Chicago-City of Extremes” in Look, which captures a stark atmosphere behind Chicago and well reflects the directors own cinematic visual style. In addition to this, as an avid boxing enthusiast, Kubrick also began photographing major matches for the magazine, with his earliest piece on the sport, “Prizefighter” being published in January 1949.
This likely explains how Stanley Kubrick ended up at a wrestling bout between Ralph Garibaldi and Gorgeous George in 1949 Chicago, taking yet another series of photographs for Look magazine. With a rich monochrome aesthetic, Kubrick’s photographs on the night elicit the joy of the crowd and the thrill of the fight itself. Reuel Golden, who co-edited a recently published book about the photography of Stanley Kubrick, noted the following about the director: “There’s also a sense where Kubrick is very much in the scene but you don’t see him. That’s something that is very paramount for a film director. That you sense his presence but you don’t actually see him”.
The influence of Kubrick’s own photographic style on his later filmography is quite clear, with each of his images expressing a feeling of momentousness and gravitas. Piecing together the puzzle of his photography, one can sense the pressure of the baying crowd, and the subsequent intensity for George ‘Gorgeous’ Wagner. The series of photographs is in itself a story made up of intricate secrets and hidden meaning.
Kubrick’s contribution to photography was impressive, though is of course overshadowed by his legacy in filmmaking where he would take his established artistic eye and apply it to the moving image. Leaving us with one pearl of photography wisdom, Kubrick stated: “Think up ideas for stories, go out and shoot them, and then send them into the magazines. I was lucky; I figured that out when I was young.”