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Camera Quiz Kid: Stan Kubrick
by Mildred Stagg

"I think esthetically recording spontaneous action, rather than carefully posing a picture, is the most valid and expressive use of photography," Stanley Kubrick said. Maybe the statement wasn't earth-shaking, but it startled me. The boy who said that had turned nineteen a week ago, and has been a staff photographer for LOOK magazines since age seventeen.

Mr. Kubrick didn't come by this photographic philosophy overnight. He has been making and selling picture stories for three years. Just three years ago, Stan got his first camera as a present - a Kodak Monitor 620. That was his "how do you do" to the instrument that has served him like the genie served Aladdin.

Kubrick was sixteen years old, and the posessor of a new camera, when he passed a newsstand on April 12, 1945. An old man was sitting at the stand, surrounded by papers with black headlines that read, "ROOSEVELT DEAD." Stanley took the picture, and when it was developed he realized it was salable. From reading camera magazines he knew how to go about selling it, so he took it to LOOK. At that time Mrs. Helen O'Brian was picture editor. She showed the picture to the late managing editor Guenther and they decided to use it.

Mrs. O'Brian shared Kubrick's belief that picture stories were his natural bent and she encouraged him to do more - after school, "He sold LOOK four picture stories," Mrs. O'Brian said, "Stanley had the highest percentage of acceptances of any free-lance photographer I've ever dealt with." About half of Kubrick's off-guard stories were his own ideas. They were before he became LOOK's youngest photographer and they still are. One Kubrick candid began with an ordinary visit to the dentist. Like most of us Stanley hates to go to the dentist. While he was waiting he noticed that the other patients waiting looked as nervous as he felt. The result was a series of off-guard shots, made with natural lighting that show the photographer's appreciation of the humor in our fear of the dentist and something else - the humor is sympathetic. This combination is seldom found, and then usually among extremely mature persons.

Stanley Kubrick showed his capacity for sympathetic humor when he was only sixteen. He had an English teacher at Taft high school who read "Hamlet" aloud to the class. The teacher played every part, using facial expressions and gestures appropriate for the character he was playing. Kubrick brought his camera to class, took off-guard pictures, and LOOK bought them. Because the pictures were funny without being cruel the teacher enjoyed the story as much as any other LOOK reader. There is this same quality in a story called "How people look to the monkeys." Kubrick was assigned to do a picture on how people looked to the caged animals. To find out he made the necessary arrangements with the authorities at the zoo at Prospect park in Brooklyn. In the monkey house there are both indoor and outdoor cages. The monkeys were in the outdoor cage, so Kubrick stationed himself in the indoor cage with his lens poked through the food slit. At first the monkeys were curious but after they were allowed to look in the camera they returned to hamming for their usual audience. The picture ran in LOOK with a full-page picture of a monkey scratching its head, titled, "This is how monkeys look to people." The other page showed Kubrick's picture of the monkey's audience and was captioned "...and this is how people look to the monkeys."

Until he joined LOOK's staff, Stanley used a standard Rolleiflex. Now he uses an automatic Rolleiflex, a 4 by 5 Speed Graphic and a Contax.

Indoors he prefers natural light, but switches to flash when the dim light would restrict the natural movement of the subject. In a subway series he used natural light, with the exception of a picture showing a flight of stairs. "I wanted to retain the mood of the subway, so I used natural light," he said. People who ride the subway late at night are less inhibited than those who ride by day. Couples make love openly, drunks sleep on the floor and other unusual activities take place late at night. To make pictures in the off-guard manner he wanted to, Kubrick rode the subway for two weeks. Half of his riding was done between midnight and six a.m. Regardless of what he saw he couldn't shoot until the car stopped in a station because of the motion and vibration of the moving train. Often, just as he was ready to shoot, someone walked in front of the camera, or his subject left the train.

Kubrick finally did get his pictures, and no one but a subway guard seemed to mind. The guard demanded to know what was going on. Kubrick told him.
"Have you got permission?" the guard asked.
"I'm from LOOK," Kubrick answered.
"Yeah, sonny," was the guard's reply, "and I'm the society editor of the Daily Worker."

For this series Kubrick used a Contax and took the pictures at 1/8 second. The lack of light tripled the time necessary for development.

When Kubrick has a story idea five copies are typed out and one is to be submitted to Dan Mich (executive editor), Henry Ehrlich (managing editor), Merle Armitage (art director), Arthur Rothstein (technical director) and Woodrow Wirsig (assistant managing editor). At a board meeting they decide to give the idea a red, or green light. A green light means a specific assignment. Rarely does Kubrick have a free rein.

Kubrick is maintaining the same high batting average as a staff photographer that he enjoyed as a free lance. He explains it by saying, "The magazine's policy is so well determined that you seldom go out on a wild goose chase. When LOOK sends you out on a story the story is usually published." I asked Stanley for some advice to ambitious amateurs who want to become magazine photographers. "Think up ideas for stories, go out and shoot them, and then send them in to the magazines. I was lucky; I figured that out when I was young," he said. I couldn't help smiling at the word "young" and he continued, "Don't try to shoot big events or people; wou will probably have the most success by shooting things the magazine would never know of."

Stan is also very serious about cinematography, and is about to start filming a sound production written and financed by himself and several friends.

The Camera, October 1948

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