Look magazine

Look magazine
   In the spring of 1945, still in high school and not yet 17 years old, STANLEY KUBRICK sold a photograph to Look magazine. Shot on April 12, it depicted a despondent New York City newsstand vendor, surrounded by headlines carrying the sad news of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death.
   After a few freelance photo assignments for Look, Kubrick joined the magazine’s staff as a photographer.
   I worked for Look magazine from the age of seventeen to twenty-one. It was a miraculous break for me to get this job after graduation from high school. I owe a lot to the then picture editor, Helen O’Brian, and the managing editor, Jack Guenther. This experience was invaluable to me, not only because I learned a lot about photography, but also because it gave me a quick education in how things happened in the world. To have been a professional photographer was obviously a great advantage for me . . . It was tremendous fun for me at that age, but eventually it began to wear thin, especially since my ultimate ambition had always been to make movies. The subject matter of my Look assignments was generally pretty dumb. I would do stories like: “Is an Athlete Stronger Than a Baby?”, photographing a college football player emulating the “cute” positions an 18-month-old child would get into. Occasionally, I had a chance to do an interesting personality story. One of these was about Montgomery Clift, who was at the start of his brilliant career. Photography certainly gave me the first step up to movies. To make a film entirely by yourself, which initially I did, you may not have to know very much about anything else, but you must know about photography.
   In his biography of Kubrick, VINCENT LOBRUTTO gives an excellent account of virtually all of Kubrick’s photos that appeared in Look. This author has found only one issue of Look (January 1947) containing Kubrick’s work, that LoBrutto does not mention. It features a high-angle, behind-the-scenes shot of a TV studio set, as well as five portraits of “average Americans,” who were asked the question, “What part of America would you like to see this year?” Rather than duplicate LoBrutto’s descriptions of all the other photos here, this essay will mention instead just a few particularly interesting cases: The October 1, 1946, issue of Look contains a two-page spread of 18 photos taken by Kubrick, depicting as many individual patients in a dentist’s waiting room. While the sequence does not exactly constitute a narrative, some of the individual shots achieve a commendable level of characterization and even humor. In one shot, a middle-aged woman fidgets as she waits, a look of consternation on her face. The caption reads,“Well! What’s the use of fretting about a tooth?” In another, a young man is so preoccupied over his impending doom that he fails to notice the shapely legs of the young woman seated next to him—“That thumping jaw keeps him oblivious of everything. ”
   Critics who have mistakenly cited Kubrick’s inability to convey human emotion need look no further than his photo story,“Wally Conquers Polio,” in the October 12, 1948, issue. One photo depicts young Wally, football in hand, running away from his elated father. Another shows Wally’s mother giving him his therapeutic exercises. Like much of Kubrick’s motion picture work, this photo’s rather dispassionate treatment of the subject matter makes it all the more effective: the event itself is full of real emotion and tenderness, and Kubrick’s photo does not need to embellish its human content.
   The January 1950, issue features Kubrick’s photography in a story on Dwight D. Eisenhower, then president of Columbia University. Half of the first page of the story is taken up by Kubrick’s portrait of a smiling Eisenhower, against a black background, his face sculpted perfectly by a single, optimally placed light. The many celebrity portraits that Kubrick did in his later years at Look no doubt helped prepare him for dealing with star personalities on film sets. After all, if, at the tender age of 21, the young photographer was able essentially to direct people such as Frank Sinatra, Leonard Bernstein, and General Eisenhower in photo shoots, it should come as no surprise that later in his career, Kubrick would never be intimidated by anyone.
   ■ Ciment, Michel, Kubrick, trans. Gilbert Adair (New York: Faber and Faber, 2001);
   ■ LoBrutto,Vincent, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Da Capo) 1999.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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