Street Life: The Photography of Weegee

Marginalia

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With a Song in My Heart

Unknown Victim Circa 1940

Sodokoff & Webber, 1942

Norma Devine, 1944

Hells Kitchen

Girls at the Bar, 1946

Time is Short, 1942

The Fashionable People, 1943

Randon Drunk Circa 1940

Joy of Living, 1942

A

rthur “Weegee” Fellig is best known for his crime scene photographs taken around New York throughout the mid-1930s and 40s. Untrained by formal means, Weegee had a natural eye for composition, which effectively added an aura of artistry to his routine shots of dead bodies and stunned on-lookers. His unique approach and friendly nature soon made him as well known as his photos, and yet despite fame, Weegee chose for the most part to remain loyal to the very streets he grew up on.

Weegee started out in the newspaper business around 1924 as a darkroom technician. He began filling in as a news photographer soon after, and by 1935, he was freelancing full time. He was well known then by the major newspapers and equally known amongst the local law enforcement agencies whose districts he covered. Being a likable guy, he was able to install a police radio in his car (which also contained a portable darkroom in the back seat and a typewriter in the trunk) giving him not only his pick of scenes to photograph, but the obvious ability to get there faster than the competition.

Aside from his work with crime  – and later his celebrity photography, Weegee also spent many hours photographing the street scenes of his lower east side neighborhood, capturing the faces and personalities that inhabited it. Here, his natural eye for composition captured something quite different from his usual post mortem fare; a slice of  life from streets, as poignant as any produced by Margaret Bourke-White and as timeless as the sentiments of a Steinbeck novel (although probably closer to a Hubert Selby, Jr. novel the more I think about it).

How can it be that photos taken in New York during the 1940s seem more relevant today than today’s actual photos? It’s true that investigative journalism has all but been erased from mainstream formats and replaced by meaningless infotainment (or worse, the outright lies seen daily on Fox news), but we can’t just blame the system. We have the Internet after all.

And if not today’s then tomorrow’s photojournalists will surely benefit from comparing the vanilla point and shoot photography we have to look at everyday in our local papers against Weegee’s almost 70-year-old body of work. We as designers clearly know a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Today we should be asking who those words really belong to. Weegee’s subjects spoke a truth, no matter how gritty or raw, alive or dead. A truth that was so clearly communicated, the results strangely reflect our present day reality far more effectively than our actual present day reality does.

For more information on Weegee, check out the following links:

Published //

July 27, 2010

Author //

Drew

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5

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Artists, Inspiration, Photography

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(Like this post) 12

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5 Comments

  1. No.
    1

    Identification

    hey man, i must say this post (i would call it really a WORK) is amazing. Not only the beauty and artistic photos of this genius, but your reflection about it.
    You know, here in latam we have the same problem, the press is all lies, and it seems to me that they want people to go completely mad and paranoid, for them to keep at home so they are easier to control.
    Fear and sex are both the most seller feelings and the only objective of the press today is to sell and to serve the bearer of the power.

    Name //

    pablow

    Date //

    July 27, 2010

    Reply to user

    • No.
      1.1

      Identification

      Pablow. Thanks a lot for the comment. Weegee was so much more than a ‘news photographer’. In fact I actually had to edit out quite a bit as there was so much to report on.
      Trust me the media will never make the same mistake they did during Viet Nam -actually reporting it. If we ever want to see real news, we’re going to have to report it ourselves.
      Latam seems so conflicted. I often wonder why is has to be that way. I guess I’m not sure how much the IMF or World Bank are meddling around there today.

      Name //

      Drew

      Date //

      July 27, 2010

      Reply to user

  2. No.
    2

    Team Colorcubic

    can’t express how much i love weegee’s work. though many of the photographs may come off morbid, there’s something really captivating and non-scary about it as well — one might even say it’s beautiful. and i don’t find it one bit strange that i’m sitting here at work, looking at photos of dead bodies. :)

    and i totally agree with you on the current state of photojournalism. it’s just not what it used to be.

    Name //

    Christy

    Date //

    July 27, 2010

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  3. No.
    3

    Identification

    Hey Drew, happily here things have change quiet a bit. Back in the nineties we had a lot pressure from IMF and World Bank but new governments and social movements have reinforced our autonomy and local grow.
    I don´t know if you have heard about it but i d like to recommend you to watch “South of the border” by Oliver Stone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sY76HQpcR4
    It has a lot to do with what we are talking baut here and with what Weegee transmit in his work.
    Regards and keep up the good work.
    By the way, i think this photos by Weegee are beauty because they are true.

    Name //

    Pablow

    Date //

    July 28, 2010

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    • No.
      3.1

      Identification

      You rock Pablow. Thanks for the update. I’m a big fan of Oliver Stone and his work and I’m looking forward to seeing this film. Come back and say hello anytime.

      Name //

      Drew

      Date //

      July 28, 2010

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