stanley kubrick eyes wide open – How the Circus gets set -- Balancing act with trapeze artists, 1948
In 1948 Kubrick spent several days photographing the personalities in and around America's largest circus. The images convey the cinematic language that would later define his films.
Ortner-Kreil says the photos also demonstrate his knowledge of avant-gard and Bauhaus photography, which he would have encountered on his many trips to New York's Museum of Modern Art as a child.
"If you look at the point where this bar is cutting the rope it's really in the middle," she says. "It appears to be a collage, not a photograph. All the different details are arranged very carefully, and he chooses the perspective of the director of the circus who is shouting at the artists and acrobats. He takes the camera down to underline the authority of the director."
stanley kubrick eyes wide open – New York Subway -- Young lovers, 1947
Kubrick was intrigued by the New York subway as a place of transit where people from diverse backgrounds encountered one another. He shot many of these images between midnight and six in the morning."The images showing sleeping passengers are carefully arranged," Ortner-Kreil says. "Behind many, there is composed direction, as demonstrated in this shot of two lovers. The young man slides his hand under his girlfriend's coat. The photographer, and therefore also the observer, become voyeurs...Kubrick used to work with friends who acted as 'protagonists' for those shots."
stanley kubrick eyes wide open – Betsy von Fürstenberg -- Reading a script in the windowsill, 1950
Kubrick followed New York socialite and actress Betsy von Fürstenberg for a series entitled "The Debutante Who Went to Work."
"She's a jet set girl and at the peak of her career when Kubrick photographs her," says Ortner-Kreil. "But for 'work' she only pursues pleasure activities, like trying on jewelery and clothes, and living the typical life of the Upper Eastside milieu where she was born and bred. But here she is trying to remember a script in a window."
In another photo in the series, she can be seen lazing on a sofa, seemingly oblivious to a Picasso hanging on the wall behind her.
"He used it as a satirical comment that in this milieu people are just decorating their wall with Picasso but not giving it any proper attention."
stanley kubrick eyes wide open – Shoe Shine Boy -- Mickey with his shoe shine stand, 1947
The editors of Look frequently commissioned photo essays of actors and other glamorous people at home. But in this unpublished series for the magazine, Kubrick followed a 12-year-old shoe shine boy named Mickey.
"For this story he picked an ordinary child who is behaving like an adult because he is working all the time," says Ortner-Kreil. "The first photos show him in his professional surroundings counting change, waiting for a client, and shining shoes. Kubrick was only five years older than Mickey, and you can feel some connection between the two."
stanley kubrick eyes wide open – Shoe Shine Boy -- Mickey with pigeons, 1947
Kubrick captured more than Mickey's working life. He still goes to school and to the movies, and enjoys other childhood pursuits.
"Here you can see him on the roof of a Brooklyn house where he is keeping pigeons," Ortner-Kreil says. "Observing the pigeons flying freely is a metaphor for freedom. He has changed his clothes so he is wearing a proper white shirt and is no longer a shoe shine boy. It's a different story."
stanley kubrick eyes wide open – Columbia University -- Three men in an industrial space, 1948
Kubrick never attended university himself, but he was commissioned to photograph several educational institutions, including New York's Columbia University. And while the magazine insisted he photograph the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was then president of the university, Kubrick was more interested in lab rats and scientists.
"He was always looking for comments within the photographs," says Ortner-Kreil. "Here you have three scientists involved in the development of the atomic bomb. He thought it was interesting to have this inscription of Bethlehem, which invokes religion but actually refers to a huge steel factory called Bethlehem Steel. Ambivalent details pleased him."
stanley kubrick eyes wide open – Rocky Graziano -- Portrait, 1947
Kubrick completed at least two series following a day in the life of professional boxers. This image comes from his series on legendary fighter Rocky Graziano. Kubrick portrayed him not merely as a fighter, but also someone who shared tender moments with his family.
"You see him feeding his daughter, lying on his bed, and talking on the telephone with his wife," Ortner-Kreil says. "Kubrick even follows him into the shower, but this wasn't published because it was seen as too provocative... Kubrick makes it clear he wants to be an artist. It's a quality you can discover from the very beginning of his photographs."
stanley kubrick eyes wide open – Street Conversations -- Woman walking down the street, 1946
Born in the Bronx in 1928, Kubrick later spent time photographing pedestrians in the borough. "It's very, very cinematic," says Ortner-Kreil. "Who is this lady and where is she going?"
This, and all the other images in the exhibition, come from the archives of the Museum of the City of New York. When Look magazine shut down in 1971, it donated its negatives, including Kubrick's, to that museum and the Library of Congress in Washington.