Part of what made Stanley Kubrick a legend was the way he emerged almost fully formed. Even his awkward early independent films show an intelligence and worldly sophistication far removed from the mass-media palliatives of the day, and by the time Kubrick crossed over to the mainstream with the tough little genre pieces The Killing and Paths Of Glory, he'd acquired a distinctive style and tone: a sort of detached disgust. Because of his preternatural skill and reluctance to grant interviews, Kubrick never seemed approachable as a person, and the Rainer Crone-curated photography collection Stanley Kubrick: Drama & Shadows doesn't do much to humanize him. Drawn from Kubrick's years as a teenage prodigy filing photo-essays for Look magazine, the contents of Drama & Shadows present Kubrick as a precocious, prodigiously talented young man, already setting his ruthlessly keen eye on dissecting human pretension.
Kubrick landed the Look gig after staging a photograph of a New York news vendor reacting to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's death, and for most of Kubrick's shutterbug career, he specialized in mocked-up scenes of city life, viewed from cockeyed perspectives. He did multiple studies of performers preparing to take the stage, and returned repeatedly to a kind of meta-voyeuristic "watching the watchers" theme, shooting spectators at the zoo and a baby looking at himself in a mirror. He frequently arranged his subjects in series of shots to create a narrative, often steeped in irony. The only distinctive difference between Kubrick the photographer and Kubrick the filmmaker is that as a man on the street, he couldn't always control his environment, and these photographs contain a lot more spontaneity and documentary realism than his movies do.
Crone has done Kubrick analysts a valuable service by assembling this collection, but as a historical artifact, Drama & Shadows leaves something to be desired. With the photos divorced from their original context—stripped of captions and accompanying text—it's hard to get a sense of how they were intended or received. And Crone's few tantalizing anecdotes about Kubrick's life and early career hints at what these pictures could be saying about Kubrick the man, not just Kubrick the artist. Still, the photos themselves are frequently astonishing, as Kubrick explores carnivals, paddy wagons, and college campuses, looking for ways to confine people of all classes in his stark little snapshots.