Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Passengers in a subway car. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.55E
American director Stanley Kubrick has captured some of film’s most iconic moments for over four decades.
His unique cinematography captured human life at its grittiest. Before his directorial debut, he was a staff photographer for LOOK Magazine in the 1940s. During that time, Kubrick received a photo assignment which required him to photograph New York commuters on the subways.
Recently, the Museum of the City of New York released Kubrick’s collection of subway photographs from the 1940s.
The Museum has an archive of 7200 photos taken by Kubrick, and the insightful subway shots are part of the collection.
The shots’ expositions are impressive, as Kubrick captured the people in their total natural habitat—the usual avoiding eye contact, sleeping, and other banal activities that we tend to do when taking public transportation. With the exceptions of today’s mp3 players and cell phones—nothing has really changed.
Kubrick had an eye for small details in human actions, and it’s easy to see where the director got his influence. Each photo represents a director in the making, as many of the angles, subjects and expositions found in the photos can be found in his films.
Here are some examples:
Right photo: Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Woman waiting on a subway platform. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.81Bt:
This “2001: A Space Odyssey” scene features the character Dave Bowman in the endless ship controlled by the super artificially intelligent HAL 9000. The other is woman all alone waiting for a subway; both shots feature an isolated feeling away from society.
Right photo: Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Women in a subway car. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.11E
This shot of the women sitting squashed amongst each other is the reverse angle to this one with the ruthless “A Clockwork Orange“ anti-hero Alex and his goonies. Each shot both feature their subjects not looking or interacting with each other. The woman, who is awake, may not invoke the same creepy evil feeling Alex gives us, but it nonetheless reveals a being independent from the citizens around her.
Right photo: Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Couple playing footsies on a subway. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.90E
Similar to “Lolita’s” Dolores “Lolita” Haze’s trademark, flirtatious feet that drive Humbert Humbert insane, we get a sense of that in the following photo with the young couple playing the classic, teasing game of footsie in the subway. Kubrick had a subtle way of capturing a female’s affection via her body language.
Kubrick did more than capture the world; he created a universe that embodied the deep psyche of our society. His films were an art that revealed a truth to human society that we would have never ventured into on our own.
And based on the Museum of the City of New York’s archive, that once young photographer had the same eye and vision.
You can view the entire Kubrick 7,200 photo collection, here.