Tag Archives: Stanley Kubrick

From Photography to Film: Stanley Kubrick Enters the Ring

Stanley Kubricks professional career began April 12, 1945, as the high school junior with a prolific track record of absences wandered the streets of the Bronx and snapped a picture of a crestfallen newsstand dealer surrounded by headlines announcing the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As childhood friend Alexander Singer tells the story, Kubrick immediately ran to his home darkroom, which his father had built to encourage the scholastic underachievers budding interest in photography, printed the picture and made a sale that same afternoon to Look Magazine. The following year, when no colleges would accept Kubrick because of his poor academic record, Look hired him as a full-time staff photographer.

Singer and Kubrick had forged a bond over shared scholastic apathy and mutual respect of each others extracurricular achievements Singer as editor of the school literary arts magazine, and Kubrick as the kid with a camera around his neck: almost a caricature of what youd imagine a teenage cameraman would look like, as Singer describes. When plans to photograph a feature-length cinematic adaptation of Homers Iliad written and directed by Singer proved too ambitious, Kubrick struck upon the idea to instead translate one of his own photographic essays to the big screen.

That essay was Prizefighter, published by Look in January 1949, and described by Kubrick biographer Vincent LoBrutto as the moment he came of age as a photojournalist. The seven-page story depicted scenes from the life of Bronx-born middleweight boxer Walter Cartier as he trained and prepared to enter the ring against moments from his romantic and domestic lives. Often working under stark, overhead light with infrared film (also favored by his idol, Weegee), Kubrick captured high-contrast images that emphasized Walters physique and cast brooding, incisive shadows on his face.

Prizefighter would go on to define Kubrick in other ways, though. It might have been his dawning moment as a photojournalist, but the essay would also serve as the basis of the first film Kubrick would direct, called Day at the Fight, released two years later.

The 20-year old Kubrick made the decision to shoot his first film on 35mm rather than the lighter, more economical 16mm format favored by amateursa bold decision by someone who later described the entirety of his motion picture camera training as a hands-on demonstration at an equipment house. Kubrick and Singer used Bell & Howells Eyemo, a lightweight camera introduced 1926 for use in newsreels and military applications and advertised, perhaps over-optimistically, as convenient to carry as the average size still camera. Kubrick photographed most of the project solo, and Singer joined on a second ringside camera to capture the live fight scene. A third camera operator also filmed from high in the auditorium.

Comparing the Prizefighter contact sheets side-by-side with Day of the Fight, one gets the sense that much of the creative legwork had been worked out during the photo essay, which, despite its ostensible documentary subject matter, was chiefly constructed through deliberately-staged scenes. But Day of the Fight is a distinctly cinematic work; particularly remarkable is Kubrick’s ability to control time and add an element of suspense in portraying Walter’s anticipation of the fight, a trait missing in Prizefighter. linkwheel . The first-time director was also aided by the fact that the physical spectacle of boxing lends itself to cinema. After all, the first feature-length film ever released was a 1897 St. Patricks Day fight between James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. Many of the same setups from the contact sheets and short film are repeated in Kubricks subsequent work, particularly his second feature, Killers Kiss, a seedy yarn about a down-on-his-luck fighter.

Although Kubrick is regarded as the most critically and commercially successful photographer turned full-time feature filmmaker, this mainstream acclaim might also be the reason his name rarely enters the discussion of the legendary New York-based photographers and their progressive contributions to avant garde and non-narrative filmmaking. This tradition includes Paul Strand (Manhatta, 1921), Rudy Burckhardt (The Pursuit of Happiness, 1940) Helen Levitt (In the Street, 1949), Ruth Orkin & Morris Engel (The Little Fugitive, 1953), William Klein (Broadway by Light, 1958) and Robert Frank (Pull My Daisy, 1959), among whose varying innovations include discrete handheld photography, examples of life caught unawares, and blurring lines between documentary and staged situations. Kubricks perceived youth and inexperience may be another factor in this oversight: though several writers have supported their praise of The Little Fugitive by recalling that the ten-years-senior Engel claimed a 25-year-old Kubrick attempted to rent his uniquely-constructed equipment for his own first feature (Fear and Desire), Kubricks production predates The Little Fugitive by several months. Furthermore, much of Kubrick’s early work has not been widely available to the public per Kubrick’s wishes, Fear and Desire only recently resurfaced after decades of suppression.

One could hardly argue Day of the Fight is a major work in the context of documentary film or Kubricks entire oeuvre, but it remains a fascinating key to understanding the development of Kubrick as an artist and entrepreneuran under-appreciated example of the maverick cinematic approaches developed by street photographers. Undoubtedly,Day of the Fight is one of the most assured and mature endeavors undertaken by someone approaching a film camera for the first time.

Jon Dieringer is an independent curator and the editor and publisher of Screen Slate, a daily online resource for listings and commentary of New York City repertory film and independent media.

Underage: Young Photographers

The amazing editor, Alison Zavos of the Feature Shoot blog, and visonary gallery director, Amanda Gorence have curated an exhibition, Underage, featuring six young photographers who document the the joys and travails of growing up in today’s world. Their photographs reveal a savvy and insight into a way of visual thinking that belies the calendar, truly remarkable as they are at an age where most of us were still picking the lint out of our belly buttons and wondering what to do with our lives.

The exhibition is at Pier 3 Uplands in Brooklyn Bridge Park and is part of Photoville, a unique photo village build from shipping containers.  Photoville and the Underage Exhibition will run through July 1st.

Select images from Underage

Aiden Morse

Growing up the secluded Australian island of Tasmania with only half a million inhabitants, it makes sense why Aiden Morse’s photographs convey a sense of lonliness.  Seventeen-year-old Morse started making photographs at 15, experimenting with both film and digital.  “For this series, I’ve been playing around with the aesthetic of ’70s and ’80s sci-fi and horror films, ” said Morse.  Morse’s inspriations are names; Edward Hopper, Gregory Crewdson, Steven Spielberg, and Stanley Kubrick; all men who evoke a sense of solitude or dramatic eeriness in their respective media.

“For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with observing adolescence and the transition to adulthood,” said 20- year-old Charlie Brophy.  The Australian photographer has been photographing teenage ambiguity since she fell in love with the darkroom at age 15.  “I am interested in the responsibilities teenagers take on between the transition from adolescence to adulthood…and the freedom of sexual androgyny that youth of today explore,” said Brophy.


Claire Oring

Claire Oring’s dreamy photos tell stories of nature, mysticism, and folklore, and centers around coming of age girls and their youthful perspectives. Oring credits her signature romantic and mystical themes to her love of art history.  “I look up to a lot of classical painters from the Renasissance and the Romantic ers…and the Pre-Raphaelites,” said Oring.  “The tell a story in each painting.”

 Lissy Laricchia

At the age of 18, Lissy Elle Laricchia is legally an adult, but her photos of tea parties, levitating girls in the forst, and poised ballerinas still have a firm grasp on childhood.  “Nothing inspires me like childish things…the love of learning and exploring what we as adults lose along the way,” said Laricchia.

Olivia Bee, born Olivia Bolles, is a
17-year-old photographer based in Portland, Oregon. Her intimate photos of
friends, youth, and falling in love for the first time feel like pages ripped
out of Bee’s own diary. “Everything can last forever when you’re 15 or 16,”
said Bee. “I think it’s one of the purest forms of love.”

From 2010 to 2011, 22 year-old Violet Forest documented her sister Vickie’s life.  She ended up with a raw and revealing look into her 24-year-old sibling’s struggles, romantic battles, and moments of peach that “depend on the familial intimacy between two sisters to explore the complexities of the individual,” said Forest.