Archive for January 21st, 2012

A friend pointed out to me that that a new exhibition of work opened yesterday at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan featuring the work of the fabled NY  freelance crime photographer, Weegee.  Most have seen his work in some form, perhaps in his graphic shots of murder scenes or the less lurid but still compelling shots of everyday New York in the 1930’s and 40’s.   I had been wanting to feature his work here for some time so I thought this was as good a time as any.

Weegee was the nickname given to Arthur Felig, who was born in the Ukraine in 1899 and came to NY as a young boy.  He worked as staff photograher for a news service in the 20’s before becoming a freelancer in the mid-1930’s, selling his photos to a number of NY papers.  Cruisng the city in his salesman’s coupe (a car with a front seat and the rear seat removed for extra room for samples cases) that he had equipped with a police radio, he earned his nickname from the police who were amazed at his ability to instantly appear on the scene, as though he had a Ouija board. 

His work was graphic and sometimes seedy.  But it was always well composed and thought out, each frame revealing the drama or pathos of the moment.  His work was all about telling a story and murders, mob hits, transvestites and drunks made up a big part of Weegee’s world.  But he also captured the feel of the NY of that time.  His shots of people sleeping on fire escapes during an extended summer hotspell or the incredible views of massive crowds filling every possible inch of Coney Island or a young couple with 3-D glasses caught in a passionate embrace  in a darkened theatre   (shown at the top) tell more humanly accessible stories. In addition to providing an anthropological record of that era in MYC, he also transformed the tabloid photo from mere documentation to an artform, in a way that has never been matched.

Weegee died in 1968 but his work has maintained great popularity through the decades.  If you’re in NYC, check out this show at the ICP.  It runs until September 2, 2012.

If you have a few minutes, here’s a film of Weegee explaining a few things about his business and talking about a few of his memorble photos.  Very interesting stuff.

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