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Stanley Kubrick’s New York comes alive in new exhibit

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The director’s early work as a photographer for Look magazine are on view

Stanley Kubrick, from “Life and Love on the New York City Subway”, 1947
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York / SK Film Archive, LLC

Before he was a genre-bending, award-winning director, Stanley Kubrick was a photographer—one who captured the everyday lives of New Yorkers in cinematic images that hinted at what was to come in his later years. The Bronx-raised Kubrick was just 17 when he began working for Look magazine as a staff photographer, a job that took him to every corner of New York City (and beyond) over a period of five years.

Now, more than 120 of these photos are collected in “Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs,” opening on May 3 at the Museum of the City of New York. The photos are from the museum’s collection of Look photos, and will also be collected in a book of the same name, to be published by Taschen as a companion.

The photos are not the sort of conceptual work you might expect from the director of A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Given the venue—Look was a general-interest publication, in the vein of Life—the photos are a more mundane look at New Yorkers’ day-to-day lives, from kids playing in the street to tired couples riding the subway. Still, it’s fascinating to see the city through Kubrick’s eyes; as the New York Times noted, without his career at Look, his later work would almost certainly have never come to fruition.

“By the time I was 21 I had four years of seeing how things worked in the world,” Kubrick told an interviewer in 1972. “I think if I had gone to college I would never have been a director.”

The exhibit is on view at the Museum of the City of New York from May 3 to October 28.

From “Park Benches: Love is Everywhere”, 1946
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York/SK Film Archive, LLC
From “Faye Emerson: Young Lady in a Hurry,” 1950
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York/SK Film Archive, LLC
From “Fun at an Amusement Park: Look Visits Palisades Park,” 1947
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York/SK Film Archive, LLC
From unpublished assignment “Shoeshine Boy,” 1949
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York/SK Film Archive, LLC
From “Columbia University,” 1948
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York/SK Film Archive, LLC
From “Shoeshine Boy”, 1947
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York/SK Film Archive, LLC
From “Johnny on the Spot: His Recorded Adventures Mirror the New York Scene,” 1946
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York/SK Film Archive, LLC