Long before he was leading us into the distance with the forbidden fruit of filmmaking, Stanley Kubrick was cutting his teeth as a photographer for LOOK Magazine. The gig often had him scouring the shadows of the urban milieu with sly, shot-from-the-hip tendencies—more Walker Evans documentarian than Daily News photojournalist.
Take Life and Love on the New York Subway, a collection of Kubrick's photos of New York City's subway system from 1946. The images seem to gravitate toward the individual, or at the very least small clusters of commuters, leaving the whole thing teetering on the edge of the known. We're given just enough information to be pulled into Kubrick's subjects' sad little orbits, but that's still nevertheless not enough to see them as anything but faces in the crowd, like this guy here. It's almost like he's about to tell you to give him the fucking bat:
It was an exercise in austerity. “I wanted to retain the mood of the subway, so I used natural light," Kubrick was quoted by Mildred Stagg, who added:
People who ride the subway late at night are less inhibited than those who ride by day. Couples make love openly, drunks sleep on the floor and other unusual activities take place late at night. To make pictures in the off-guard manner he wanted to, Kubrick rode the subway for two weeks. Half of his riding was done between midnight and six a.m. Regardless of what he saw he couldn’t shoot until the car stopped in a station because of the motion and vibration of the moving train. Often, just as he was ready to shoot, someone walked in front of the camera, or his subject left the train.
So what you get are brief, isolated flashes of raw human condition suspended between trains coming and going, like this hushed exchange:
Or this grim gem:
You can check out a bunch more over at the MCNY blog.