Stanley Kubrick got his first camera off his old man Jacques when he was thirteen. It was a Graflex Pacemaker with a coated lens, body release, and folding infinity stops. Kubrick wore it on a strap around his neck, took it to school, where snapped classmates, teachers, and events for the student paper. School bored Kubrick. He skipped class to take pictures around town. In the afternoons he’d go watch double-features at the local cinema. Some teachers thought he was just a below average student, but Kubrick’s IQ test put him up near the top of the class. He liked chess and read voraciously.
The Kubricks had a neighbor called Marvin Traub who had his own darkroom. Kubrick became friends with Traub and spent hours using his darkroom learning how magic pictures appear on paper.
The experience of taking photographs and watching movies made Kubrick want to become a film director. He started using his camera to make mini-filmic sequences with still photography. He was a big fan of Weegee and studied his work to learn how to capture character and drama in an eight by ten frame.
The big break came when Kubrick snapped a newsvendor looking long-faced, low-down and sad over the headline news “Roosevelt Dead.” The picture looked like Kubrick had captured an unguarded moment which reflected the mood of the nation. In fact, he had coaxed the vendor to look sad. He developed the picture and hawked it to the photographic editor Helen O’Brian at Look magazine. She paid twenty-five bucks on the spot for the image. It was Kubrick’s first sale and the start of his photographic career.
Kubrick started creating his own distinctive style. He became known for his series of photographic essays like the one of a group of patients sitting nursing gum boils and aching teeth at a dentist’s waiting room. Kubrick told the patients just how he wanted them to pose in the shot and then click-clicked away. He always shot more than he needed—but only ever presented the photographs that worked best.
In 1949, Look sent Kubrick to Chicago to document life in the city for a photo-spread called “Chicago—City of Extremes.” Kubrick photographed morning commuters, traders on the stock exchange floor, kids at school, women at work, tenement familes, and the vibrant nightlife. These high contrast pictures were like an artist’s sketches for a bigger artwork. His pictures of traders looked like a rehearsal for the chaos of the War Room in Dr. Strangelove. The wrestling match with Gorgeous George anticipates the boxing scenes in Killer’s Kiss. And so on. Kubrick was honing his talents to become the director he knew he was always going to be.
More of Kubrick’s Chicago, after the jump…