Self-portrait taken from Stanley Kubrick - Drama & Shadows: Photographs 1945-1950 by Rainer Crone, published by Phaidon.
19 May 2011
One frame: Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick, before becoming one of the most celebrated directors of the 20th century, worked as a photographer for Look magazine from 1945-1950...
“To make a film entirely by yourself, which I initially did, you may not have to know very much about anything else, but you must know about photography,” said Stanley Kubrick. Convergence between photography and film is a hot topic but, as Kubrick’s experiences show, the boundary has always been blurred. A keen amateur photographer in high school, Kubrick published his first photograph at the age of 16, and was on the staff of Look magazine by 17. He stayed five years before leaving to make movies, but photography underpinned his work for the rest of his life – the Stanley Kubrick Archive at London College of Communication (LCC), University of Arts London contains more than 1000 boxes of paraphernalia relating to his work, and 30 percent of the material is photographic, including prints and contact sheets of Kubrick’s early photographs.
Kubrick invited Weegee onto the set of Dr Strangelove to take production stills; he asked Sarah Moon to photograph Barry Lyndon. On-set images show the director with a Rolleiflex, and the collection includes Nikon F3s, a Polaroid back and a Polaroid Land camera. “In most cases it’s not possible for us to say ‘This was by Kubrick, this wasn’t’, but there are a couple of stills we know are by him,” says Richard Daniels, senior archivist at the University Archives and Special Collections Centre. “There are shots of Weegee covered in custard at the pie fight [a scene in Dr Strangelove which was deleted], and we think there’s a good chance they were by Kubrick.”
Photography was used in filming to help ensure continuity, and before shooting to scope out locations. The archive contains photographs of Becton Gasworks with palm trees and hoardings hand-painted onto them, for example, showing how the area would be transformed into Vietnam for Full Metal Jacket. The film’s central character, Private Joker, is a photographer, who experiences how the military shapes media coverage of war; the actor, Matthew Modine, picked up a Rolleiflex at the start of filming, and went on to publish a book of his images. “It makes sense Kubrick has a photography background. His films are visually amazing, everything is so carefully framed and lit,” he wrote in Full Metal Jacket Diary.
Modine asserts that the director’s photographic experience fed into his movies and, while we can only speculate whether this is true, there are some interesting clues. Kubrick’s first film, a short documentary called The Day of the Fight made in 1951, followed middleweight Irish boxer Walter Cartier as he prepared for, and emerged victorious from, a bout. It was based on a story Kubrick shot for Look magazine in 1949 called Prizefighter, and the archive contains a box of contact sheets from this story.
Kubrick’s archive also shows how his interest in contemporary photography fed his research. The books he collected on the Vietnam War include Larry Burrows’ Compassionate Photographer and Philip Jones Griffiths’ Vietnam Inc, as well as collections by AP photographers and publications from Vietnam and Russia. For Paul Lowe, course director of the LCC’s Photojournalism MA, these images can be traced in Full Metal Jacket. “There are pages cut out of the Burrows book, showing a marine in a military helicopter [a story in Life in April 1965]. Although we don’t know who took out the pages, you can see their influence in the film,” says Lowe.
Many of the books contain Post-it notes marking images, and the Kubrick family’s library (not yet part of the archive) contains more photobooks, with more notes. Blurring the boundaries between still and moving images and between factual and fictional storytelling, these traces will make fascinating lines of enquiry. The LCC still has 20 percent of the archive left to catalogue, but anyone interested can make an appointment to see it. The catalogue will be online this spring. bjp
The image above is taken from Stanley Kubrick – Drama & Shadows: Photographs 1945-1950 by Rainer Crone, which is published by Phaidon (ISBN 978-0714-844381), priced £39.95.
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