Few film directors can claim to have had as great a longstanding visual impact as Stanley Kubrick. A true visionary, he has become virtual shorthand for obsessive attention to detail. This drive resulted in masterpieces of film including Paths of Glory, Dr Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining and Barry Lyndon.

A new Taschen book, Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs reveals the roots of his visual perfectionism. In 1945, at 17, the Bronx-born Kubrick joined Look magazine as staff photographer, documenting the varied human faces of New York City.

This book, containing around 300 images, many previously unseen, is a showcase for his vision, from the dark side of celebrity to the glamour of the gutter. It is a vision applied with precision to a huge range of subjects from the people at the laundromat, a boxer in training, a trip to the circus, to a day in the life of a debutant.

A partygoer wearing a Cubist headdress at Philadelphia’s first beaux-arts ball, 1949, captured by Stanley Kubrick

A partygoer wearing a Cubist headdress, from a 1949 article in Life magazine on Philadelphia’s first beaux-arts ball

One thing strikes you: while his photography captures the characters of New York City in all their amazing diversity, the unifying element in this tome is the character of the city itself: a heady mix of light, shadow, grime and glitter.

Although still a teenager, there are the signs in abundance of how Kubrick would transition to become one of the great visionaries of the 20th century. It is an influence that resonates today. His mastery of storytelling, light and framing are all present in the book by photography critic Luc Sante (who has penned an incisive introduction), Sean Corcoran, Donald Albrecht. The book is out at the same time as a major exhibition of Kubrick’s NYC photography (also titled ‘Through A Different Lens’) at the Museum of the City of New York, on view until 28 October). §