Cecilia and Kubrick's Photographic Odyssey

Hamid Amirani - 2.7.19

Before he became the legendary filmmaker behind cinematic milestones like A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick was a prodigious photographer. The Bronx-born genius was given his first camera, a Graflex, at the age of 13 by his father. If you've read Cecilia's story - and if you haven't, check it out here  - you'll know that Cecilia’s earlier incarnation, Fleisch, manufactured the leather for these cameras. Receiving that gift marked the beginning of Kubrick’s lifelong passion for photography. 

Photograph of Woman By Stanley Kubrick
Photo taken by Kubrick aged 21 (1949) 
Credit: Stanley Kubrick, LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) 

At the age of 17, he got a job with Look magazine in New York. Using a Graflex Pacemaker Speed Graphic camera, he photographed the city's inhabitants, such as a beautiful debutante and a pair of lovers dozing on the subway late at night. Such was the quality of his output that at the age of only 19 he was interviewed for The Camera magazine during which he talked about the approach he took to his work: "I think aesthetically recording spontaneous action, rather than carefully posing a picture, is the most valid and expressive use of photography.” The last sentence in that article - "Stan is also very serious about cinematography" - would prove to be rather an understatement.

Paths of Glory Movie Poster

Paths of Glory (1957) An early Kubrick masterpiece 
Credit: National Film Registry (Library of Congress)

When Kubrick turned to film directing, the knowledge and expertise he accumulated over the course of five years and more than 300 assignments at Look were utilized to perfection in bringing his epic vision to the cinema screen. In the early years of his directing career, he often took self-portraits while on set, and he frequently used a Leica IIIc camera. This too features in Cecilia’s history, as a previous incarnation of the company, Fleisch & Gump, provided Leitz with leather covers for their Leica cameras.

Leica camera 
Credit: Markus Spiske 

Kubrick's 1975 masterpiece, Barry Lyndon, is still celebrated as one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of cinematography. Kubrick wanted to recreate candlelit rooms as they would have looked in the mid-18th century, and he was adamant about shooting entirely in natural light. At that time, the commercially available lenses for feature films did not have a sufficiently large aperture (f/stop) to enable a camera to capture interiors by candlelight alone. Kubrick was always reading and learning about cameras, lenses, film stocks, etc., and it was this tenacity that led him to research his options for shooting Barry Lyndon. He eventually found out that NASA had commissioned Zeiss to produce lenses to capture images of the moon on the Apollo mission. Zeiss ended up making 10 Planar 50mm f/0.7 lenses, which captured images two stops faster than conventional fast lenses. Six were still owned by NASA, one was kept by Zeiss, and the remaining three were bought by Kubrick. The result is an extraordinarily beautiful film that transports the viewer back to the 18th century.

Credit: Warner Bros. 

Stanley Kubrick made only 13 films, which is a low number compared to many other great directors, but as fellow New Yorker and cinematic genius Martin Scorsese once observed: "One of his films is the equivalent of ten of someone else's." Cecilia is naturally proud of the quality of the products and also proud that its history crossed paths with legendary auteur Stanley Kubrick, a visionary artist who always sought out the very best.

To learn more about Kubrick’s career in film and photography, watch the feature length documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures.

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