Having recently seen one Weegee exhibition at the Steven Kasher Gallery, it seemed I hadn’t got quite enough of the man.
So I went to see another exhibit of his work ‘Murder is my Business’ at the ICP Gallery in midtown. This proved to be one of my better decisions.
The tile is a bit of a misnomer because the exhibition doesn’t just focus on his images of murder. Really it’s all his presswork, plus a couple of documentaries shorts he made.
You tend to forget sometimes that Weegee was a tabloid photographer. If he was around today he’d be working for Murdoch but it’s this that gives his images a raw punch. They need to ‘grab you’ by the throat if they’re going to sell papers.
Interestingly it turns out that Weegee was an unlikely member of the ‘The Photo League’, a radical left wing group including such luminaries as Helen Levitt and W. Eugene Smith.
I say unlikely because Weegee doesn’t seem to be making any political point with his photos. In fact, I would go as far to say he is quite non-judgmental about everything he shoots. He makes no point about poverty when he shows young kids at the scene of their first murder and no comment on the cops that stand over a newly killed mobster.
Weegee just records the murders and arrests like Brassai records the hookers he sees in Paris.
For all the cynicism and dark humor of his images (see the picture of a murder victim outside of a cinema showing the film ‘Joy of life’) there is humanism too. The face of a cop looking moved by a car crash victim or another holding two rescued kittens in the palms of his hands.
Then there is his ‘Coney Island’ film. It is starkly beautiful with a love of the subjects it shows, while at the same time there’s also a leery quality, as Weegee’s camera ogles the bathing beauties and kissing couples on the jam-packed beach.
I suppose right there is the odd dichotomy of the man. On the one hand, sleazy tabloid snapper and on the other, empathetic man of the people.
Whatever the truth, there’s no doubt Weegee never did what he did to get rich. A recreation of the small bedsit he lived in for much of his life, with nothing but a radio for company is strangely moving. For a second we imagine what it must have been like to be him, laying on his bed waiting patiently for the next murder to be lit up by his flash bulb.