Stanley Kubrick Drama and Shadows: Photographs 1945-1950

Article excerpt

STANLEY KUBRICK DRAMA AND SHADOWS: PHOTOGRAPHS 1945-1950 Edited by Rainer Crone London: Phaidon Press, 2005, 255 pp.

While the critical literature on Stanley Kubrick's fiction films is fairly extensive, his documentary films and photojournalistic career remain relatively unknown. Kubrick's production during his five-year tenure at Look magazine includes over nine hundred published photographs. It is reasonable to assume that a closer examination of this considerable body of work may shed light on the aesthetic and ideological factors which shaped the development of Kubrick's artistic voice. The book under review is the end result of an important curatorial effort conducted since 1998 by the Iccarus group, based in Munich at Ludwig-Maximilian University's Institute of Art. Edited by Iccarus founder Rainer Crone, Drama and Shadows presents approximately four hundred photographs printed from the original Look magazine negatives stored at the Library of Congress and at the Museum of the City of New York. The photographs are organized into thirty-one photographic stories and divided into four chapters ("Metropolitan Life," "Entertainment," "Celebrities," and "Human Behavior"). To provide a critical context for the photographs, Crone and fellow Iccarus members Petrus Schaesberg and Alexandra von Stosch have each written a scholarly essay, in addition to brief introductory texts for the thirty-one photo-stories.

Studies of Kubrick's cinema generally make only passing references to his training as a photographer, for reasons which may range from an auteurist prejudice against the collaborative and commercial natures of photojournalism and the authorial impurity of assigned work, to the fact that back issues of Look magazine and the original negatives and contact sheets were not easily accessible. One exception is Vincent LoBrutto's 1997 biography of Kubrick, which devotes roughly fifty pages to Kubrick's years at Look magazine. Prior to publishing Drama and Shadows, the Iccarus group had produced a traveling exhibit and a book of photographs published in 1999 by Schnell & Steiner. Entitled Stanley Kubrick: Still Moving Pictures, Fotografien 1945-1950, this volume includes essays in German not found in Drama and Shadows. Crone and von Stosch also co-authored an article (not included in Drama and Shadows), which was translated into English for the catalogue published in connection with the summer 2004 Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the Deutsches Filmmuseum in Frankfurt.

An in-depth critical assessment of the photographs in this attractive volume may have important implications for Kubrick scholarship. In the book's Foreword, Crone modestly issues a disclaimer by stating that the book does not seek to make "connections between Kubrick's photographic style and his movies." Not surprisingly, however, the authors of the critical articles cannot help but discuss Kubrick's films on several occasions, in addition to which the art historical and ideological contexts which they provide will undoubtedly assist film scholars in establishing relevant links between the filmmaker's photoessays, documentary shorts, and feature films. For example, Schaesberg links three key texts that constitute a visual and thematic focal point of Kubrick's early career, namely the dramatic aspects of boxing. Although Schaesberg doesn't engage in the comparative textual analysis himself, he points to a 1949 photoessay entitled "Prizefighter," the 1951 documentary short Day of the Fight, and scenes from Kubrick's 1955 feature film Killer's Kiss. The focus on boxing demonstrates a consistent use of narrative, rhetorical and visual tropes that can be shown to originate in Look magazine's photojournalistic methods.

The Iccarus group's art-historical perspective tends to highlight certain features at the expense of others. Two issues in particular arise from the group's underlying philosophy of an: the nature of Kubrick's Look photographs as a corpus and the types of influences considered worthy of analysis. …