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Stanley Kubrick Photography Exhibition Opens in Moscow

Although renowned as one of the greatest film directors of all time, many movie fans are unaware of the origins and influences of Stanley Kubrick's mastery of the cinematic medium. The current exhibition, Stanley Kubrick: History in Photographs 1945-1950 which opens November 18 at Moscow's Multimedia Art Museum, provides valuable insight into Kubrick's early years as a young photographer for the American magazine Look, and showcases the best of his work during this formative period.
Regardless of his chosen genre and subject matter, Kubrick's films are imbued, one could even say saturated, with a strong sense of visual composition. He was a cinematographer's director, whose unerring attention to detail and the elements within the frame were a defining feature of his work.
As an adolescent, Kubrick regularly attended film screenings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and he had become enamored with both American and European cinema, a true film geek before the term existed. Movies became his passion, and he had already begun to compose images himself with the 3.8 kg Graflex camera his father had bought him for his thirteenth birthday, which required the photographer to compose the image from above on a ground glass the size of a small notepad. Kubrick would later develop the film in a home-made dark room he had set up in the family's house in the Bronx.
A seminal image in the young photographer's career came in the wake of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's death in April 1945, which shows the face of an aged newspaper kiosk vendor surrounded by editions of papers and magazines with headlines announcing the president's passing, as the old man gazes lost in thought, somewhere between shock and dismay, and yet oddly distant. Though the photo has been praised for not only its power in capturing a “decisive moment” as Henri Cartier-Bresson might say, as well as its “classical” sense of composition, these elements were not due merely to luck, or being in the right place at the right time. The image was actually staged, and meticulously crafted by the young photographer.
As Kubrick biographer John Baxter writes, Kubrick later “confessed he'd sweated blood persuading the old man to look appropriately dejected- an early example of his taxing method with actors.”
Kubrick took the photo to Look photo editor Helen O'Brian, who was impressed and paid him the princely sum of $25. She also asked to see some more of his work. By the age of 17, Kubrick had been hired as a staff photographer by Look, which at the time was one of the largest weekly circulation magazines in the United States, and the main competitor to Life magazine. Thus began an apprenticeship that would last five years, during which time Kubrick matured from photographer to novice film director.
Kubrick's range of photo assignments for the magazine during that period could be described as ranging from the banal to the eccentric, including series on circus and theatrical performers, musicians, celebrities, socialites and athletes, including an impressive verité style photo essay on boxer Walter Cartier, who later became the subject of Kubrick's first short film as a director, Day of the Fight (1951).
However, in between the apparent superficiality and photographic frivolity, Kubrick earned his chops and perfected his craft with a growing sense of confidence as his mastery of light, shadow and overall technical proficiency improved. During his time with Look, Kubrick shot approximately 120,000 photos, of which about 12,000 original negatives have been preserved, which were discovered by art historian Rainer Krone (curator of the current exhibition) as he was researching Kubrick's photographic heritage at the Ohio Library of Congress and Museum of the City of New York archives, where two-thirds of the negatives from Look magazine have been kept since 1952. 
For Kubrick fans, whether familiar with or totally ignorant of his previous photographic work, this exhibition is a must-see, as it provides a rare opportunity to see the apprentice work of a man who was to become a master of the cinematic medium, due at least partly to the first medium he chose to master.
The exhibition Stanley Kubrick: History in Photographs 1945-1950 runs from November 18, 2011 to January 29, 2012 at the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow.

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