Saturday, February 15, 2014

Stanley Kubrick on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey

 A couple of months ago we went to a party and I met a young man who told me he was a photographer and film maker. We discussed the merits of Kodak TriX and Ilford Multigrade bromide printing paper and so on. He had not much to say about digital photography because he loved the darkroom.

I told him one or two stories about Stanley Kubrick. (I worked for him on three of his films as a stills photographer.) I was not able to answer his questions about Stanley's work ethic or his creative process because Stanley never talked about such things. He worked nine to five on the set, or for how ever many hours the union would allow, but come five or six o'clock, we said good night. Except for the times I went to dinner with him at his house, where we played ping pong, talked about life amongst the demi-monde in London, his children's pets, how much he loved stationary stores, and the perils of buying second hand cars, I did not see him till the next morning.

But I expect he did a lot of work on scripts. Just good old plain work. I do know, though, that if the word got out that Warner Brothers executives were planning to visit the set the following morning, Stanley would not come in. Because of the lost days, after several attempts they gave up trying to see what he was doing.

Another question was: "What was so and so like." What the question should be is: "What was so and so like in front of the camera." Because that is where your sitter is—in a very particular place, a place which elicits a different reaction from people than if you had brought them a bottle of expensive Burgundy and two glasses. Under the latter circumstances you're likely to find out more what a person, in general, is like than plonking them down in front of a camera.

My young acquaintance then e-mailed me asking for more Kubrick stories and what he called old war stories. He also asked what it is like to practice photography professionally. I was touched, but I thought, no, this is not the way to help people. I wrote back: "I am not sure that I can give you any insight into what a professional photographer needs to know or do. I have never really been one. From time to time I have earned money taking pictures but it has almost always been outside the usual places that photographers find their work. I have only had success or satisfaction when I have done what I want. This can lead to poverty by the way." I should have added that the only way was to go on taking photographs and see what happens.

He replied, but he did not take the hint. I abandoned him.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great essay. I know exactly what you mean; I have been on the other end of such conversations, pestering people who have the sort of creative job I would like on whether or not I should quit my day job and for tips and such. The answer you gave is the only honest one: you can only do what you want to do and see what happens. There is no guarantee. But it's better than doing something you don't actually care about in hopes of money, because there really isn't any guarantee that way either!

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