Naked Weegee

Some photographers are very firmly attached to the DNA of certain cities; Fred Herzog to Vancouver, Roger Mayne to London, Brassai and Robert Doisneau to Paris and most definitely Weegee to New York

The fact that there are currently two exhibitions in town featuring his work, tells you everything you need to know about his eternal attachment to the city’s visual history.

His real name was Arthur Fellig and his nickname Weegee was given to him by a local cop. It is in fact a phonetic rendering of the word Ouija because of his spookily prescient arrivals at the scene of a crime, only minutes after it had occurred. I seem to remember reading somewhere that this was due to him having a portable police-band short wave radio letting him hear the news of crimes at the same time as the police.

He was self-taught and his camera was nothing fancy, just the standard for the day, but Weegee had something more valuable than the best equipment. He had a uniquely humorous and cynical point of view that gave his images an edge.

It’s not hard to see his influence on other New York photographers that followed him. Everyone from Gary Winogrand to Diane Arbus owes him a debt.

Unlike a street photographer, a press photographer like Weegee had access and could get to shoot things denied to others; be it tigers jumping through circus hoops, a burning building being hosed down by fireman (note the simply add boiling water ad on the side of the building. You can be sure Weegee did) or shot men bleeding out on the hot city streets

Weegee took full advantage of this, whether showing us the titillation of the crowd at the scene of a murder, the vanity of the rich at a Gala event or the venal appetites of kissing couples in the dark.

He is no saint and has no moral point to make with his images; he merely shows us the unedited reality of ourselves in the naked city.

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