Posts Tagged ‘Weegee the Famous

26
Feb
17

Exhibition: ‘The Camera Exposed’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 23rd July 2016 – 5th March 2017

 

There’s not much to say about this exhibition from afar, except to observe it seems pretty standard fare, with no outstanding revelations or insights into the conditions of the camera’s “becoming” in photographic images or an exploration of the limits of the lens’ seeing. As the Centre for Contemporary Photography notes in their current exhibition, An elegy to apertures, “The camera receives and frames the world through the lens. This aperture is a threshold that demarcates the distinction between the scene and its photographic echo. It is both an entrance and a point of departure.”

So what happens to this threshold when we fuse the photographer’s eye with the “oculus artificialis” of the camera? When we examine the way apertures, shadows and ghosts haunt photographic images long after the shutter has closed? If, as the text for this exhibition states, “Voyeurism is a recurring motif in photography, as the practice often involves observing and recording others,” what does this voyeurism say about the recording of the self as subject and the camera together – the self actualised, self-reflexive selfie?

An insightful text on the Based on truth (and lies) website observes of a 1925 self-portrait by photographer Germaine Krull (1897-1985):

“In 1925, Germaine Krull photographed herself in a mirror with a hand-held camera which half-covered her face. The camera is focused on the foreground of the image, such that the lens and the two hands holding the camera are sharp, while the face behind the camera is blurred. This self-portrait has given rise to many a feminist or professionally critical interpretation, ranging from the female domestication “of the masculinity of technical apparatus” through to the analogy of the camera with a weapon used by the photographer to “reduce the person opposite her […] to an impotent object”. However, if we attempt to interpret the photograph not so much in a figurative sense as in a concrete, phenomenal sense, we arrive at a completely opposite conclusion. By selecting the depth of field in such a way that only the camera and the hands are sharp, Germaine Krull has isolated her act of photographing from her subjectivity and individuality as the photographer. It is the technical apparatus, the camera, which is the focal point of the image and behind which the photographer’s face is blurred beyond recognition. We may assume that this physiognomical retreat behind the camera is less a typical feminine gesture of shyness and reticence than the characteristically ideological approach of a modernist photographer. There is one critical point in Krull’s portrait of herself as a photographer which gives us good reason to make this assumption, namely the fusion of the photographer’s eye with the “oculus artificialis” of the camera. The notion that the camera lens could not only replace the human eye as a means of capturing the world visually but also improve upon its ability to penetrate reality to its invisible depths was paradigmatic of the new, basically positivist photographic aesthetic of the 1920s. It is an aesthetic defined by the Bauhaus theorist László Moholy-Nagy in his manifesto “Painting Photography Film” in 1925 and visualized by countless collages, posters and book covers of the 1920s and 1930s depicting the camera lens as a substitute for the human eye. Germaine Krull’s self-portrait wholly identifies with this new photographic aesthetic, too. Indeed, her influential work “Métal”, a photographic eulogy of modern technology published in 1928, is its embodiment.”

The highlight for me is that always transcendent image by Judy Dater, Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite (1974, below). I would hope in the exhibition there would be images by Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, Vivian Maier, Man Ray, Rodchenko and others. But you never know.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the V&A for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In the age of the mobile phone, the camera as a stand-alone device is disappearing from sight. Yet generations of photographers have captured the tools of their trade, sometimes inadvertently as reflections or shadows, and sometimes as objects in their own right.

Throughout the history of photography the camera has often made an appearance in its own image, from the glint of Eugène Atget’s camera in a Parisian shop window from the 1900s, to the camera that serves as an eye in Calum Colvin’s 1980s photograph of a painted assemblage of objects.

Many images of cameras exploit the instrument’s anthropomorphic qualities. Held up to the face, as in Richard Sadler’s portrait of Weegee, it becomes a mask, the lens a mechanical eye. It conceals the photographer’s features yet reinforces his or her identity. Set on a tripod, it can take on human form, appearing like a body supported by legs, and can stand in for the photographer.

Photographs that include cameras often draw attention to the inherent voyeurism of the medium by turning the instrument towards the viewer. Such images confront the viewer’s gaze, returning it with the cool, mechanical look of the lens. The viewer cannot help but be aware not only of seeing, but of being seen.

Text from the V&A website

 

 

Lady Hawarden. 'Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens; Photographic Study' c. 1862-1863

 

Lady Hawarden (Viscountess, born 1822 – died 1865)
Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens; Photographic Study
c. 1862-1863
Albumen print; Sepia photograph mounted on green card
21.6 cm x 23.2 cm
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Lady Hawarden, a noted amateur photographer  of the 1860s, frequently photographed her children. Here, her second-eldest daughter  Clementina Maude poses next to a mirror, in  which a bulky camera is reflected. The camera  seems to stand in for the photographer, making  this a mother-daughter portrait of sorts.

This photograph gives a good idea of Lady Hawarden’s studio and the way she used it. It was situated on the second floor of her house at 5 Princes Gardens in the South Kensington area of London. Here her daughter Clementina poses beside a mirror. A movable screen has been placed behind it, across the opening into the next room. A side table at the left balances a desk at the right. The figure of the young girl is partially balanced and echoed by the camera reflected in the mirror and the embroidery resting on the table beside it.

Hawarden appears to have worked with seven different cameras. The one seen in the mirror is the largest. Possibly there is a slight suggestion of a hand in the act of removing and/or replacing the lens cap to begin and end the exposure. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Lady Hawarden. 'Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens; Photographic Study' c. 1862-1863 (detail)

 

Lady Hawarden
Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens; Photographic Study (detail)
c. 1862-1863
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Philippe Halsman. '"Rita Hayworth," Harper's Bazaar Studio' 1943

 

Philippe Halsman
“Rita Hayworth,” Harper’s Bazaar Studio
1943
© Philippe Halsman Archive

 

Laelia Goehr. 'Bill Brandt with his Kodak Wide-Angle Camera' 1945

 

Laelia Goehr
Bill Brandt with his Kodak Wide-Angle Camera
1945
© Alexander Goehr

 

 

Laelia Goehr (1908-2020), learned photography from Bill Brandt, who poses for this portrait with his newly-acquired Wide-Angle Kodak. This model was originally used by police to photograph crime scenes – the lens provides 110 degrees angle of view, equating approximately to a 14/15mm lens on a 35mm camera. Brandt experimented with it to produce his series Perspectives on Nudes, the same year as this portrait was taken. Brandt’s camera, which was made of mahogany and brass with removable bellows, was sold by Christie’s in 1997 for £3450. (Text from the V&A website)

 

John French. 'John French and Daphne Abrams in a tailored suit' 1957

 

John French (born 1907 – died 1966)
John French and Daphne Abrams in a tailored suit
1957, printed October 2009; print made by Jerry Jack
Gelatin silver print
27.8 cm x 38 cm
Published in the TV Times, 1957
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

French often left the actual release of the shutter to his assistants. On this occasion however, he inserted himself into the picture, kneeling behind a tripod-mounted Rolleiflex with the shutter release cable in his hand. His crouched, slightly rumpled presence gives a sense of behind-the scenes studio work and contrasts playfully with the polished elegance of the model beside him.

 

Richard Avedon. 'Suzy Parker, dress by Nina Ricci, Champs-Elysée, Paris' 1962

 

Richard Avedon
Suzy Parker, dress by Nina Ricci, Champs-Elysée, Paris
1962
© Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Sadler. "Weegee the Famous" 1963

 

Richard Sadler
“Weegee the Famous”
1963
© Richard Sadler FRPS

 

 

Coventry-based portrait photographer Richard Sadler (b. 1927) photographed the self-proclaimed ‘Weegee the Famous’ in 1963. Weegee was a New York press photographer who gained his nickname – a phonetic spelling of Ouija, the fortune-telling board game – for his reputation for arriving at crime scenes before the police. His fame was international by the time this portrait was taken. Weegee’s visit to Coventry coincided with ‘Russian Camera Week’ at the city’s Owen Owen department store. The camera Weegee holds up to his eye here is the Zenit 3M, a newly-introduced Russian model made by the Krasnogorsk Mechanic Factory between 1962 and 1970.

A few years later Weegee made a comparable self-portrait in which the camera (this time a recent Nikon model) obscures his right eye. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Photographer unknown. 'Camera on black cloth' Date unknown

 

Photographer unknown
Camera on black cloth
Date unknown
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

The camera pictured here is a Super Ikonta C 521/2 camera, produced by the German company Zeiss Ikon from about 1936 to 1960. It has been carefully lit and arranged on a velvet cloth as if it were a still-life subject, by an unknown photographer. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Tim Walker. 'Lily Cole with Giant Camera' 2004

 

Tim Walker (born 1970)
Lily Cole with Giant Camera
2004
© Tim Walker

 

 

British fashion photographer Tim Walker (born 1970) has collaborated with the art director and set designer Simon Costin for over a decade, and Costin’s oversized props feature in many of Walker’s sparkling, magical scenes. Costin based the giant camera on Walker’s 35mm Pentax K1000.Walker found inspiration for this shoot in a 1924 fashion illustration by Vogue artist Benito. Benito depicted girls reading a magazine from which the models appear to be coming alive. (Text from the V&A website)

 

 

Every photograph in this display features at least one camera. From formal portraits to casual snapshots, still-lifes to collages, they appear as reflections or shadows, and sometimes as objects in their own right. This summer the V&A displays of over 120 photographs that explore the camera as subject. People are taking more photographs today than ever before, but as they increasingly rely on smartphones, the traditional device is disappearing from sight.

The Camera Exposed showcases works by over 57 known artists as well as many unidentified amateur photographers. From formal portraits to casual snapshots, and from still-lifes to cityscapes, each work features at least one camera. Portraits of photographers such as Bill Brandt, Paul Strand and Weegee, posed with their cameras, are on display alongside self-portraits by Eve Arnold, Lee Friedlander and André Kertész, in which the camera appears as a reflection or a shadow. Other works depict cameras without their operators. In the earliest photograph included in the display, from 1853, Charles Thurston Thompson captures himself and his camera reflected in a Venetian mirror. The most recent works are a pair of 2014 photomontages by Simon Moretti, created by placing fragments of images on a scanner.

The display showcases several new acquisitions, including a recent gift of nine 20th-century photographs. Amongst these are a Christmas card by portrait photographer Philippe Halsman, an image of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith testing cameras and a self-portrait in the mirror by the French photojournalist Pierre Jahan. On display also is a recently donated collection of 50 20th-century snapshots of people holding cameras or in the act of taking photographs. These anonymous photographs attest to the broad social appeal of the camera.

Many of the photographs in the display highlight the anthropomorphic qualities of the camera. Held up to the face like a mask, as in Richard Sadler’s Weegee the Famous, the lens becomes an artificial eye. In Lady Hawarden’s portrait of her daughter, a mirror reflection of the camera on a tripod takes on a human form, a body supported by legs.

Cameras in photographs can also emphasise the inherent voyeurism of the medium. Judy Dater explores this theme in her well-known image of the fully clothed photographer Imogen Cunningham posed as if about to snap nude model Twinka Thiebaud. In other photographs on display, the camera confronts the viewer with its mechanical gaze, drawing attention to the experience not only of seeing, but of being seen.

Press release from the V&A

 

Charles Thurston. 'Thompson Venetian mirror circa 1700' 1853

 

Charles Thurston Thompson (born 1816 – died 1868)
Venetian mirror circa 1700
1853
Albumen print from wet collodion-on-glass negative
22.8 cm x 16.3 cm
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

As early as 1853, Charles Thurston Thompson (1816-68), the first official photographer to the South Kensington Museum (as the V&A was then called), recorded his reflection, along with that of his camera, in the glass of an ornate Venetian mirror. Loan objects such as the mirror were photographed so that photographic copies could be sold to designers, craftsmen and students, and also filed in the Museum’s library for study. By recording not only the frame’s intricate carvings but also his reflection and that of his box form camera and tripod, Thompson showed the very process by which he made the image. It gives us a vivid glimpse of a photographer at work outdoors in the early days of the Museum and the profession of Museum Photography. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Eugène Atget. 'Shopfront, Quai Bourbon, Paris, France' c. 1900

 

Eugène Atget (born 1857 – died 1927)
Shopfront, Quai Bourbon, Paris, France
c. 1900
Albumen print from gelatin dry plate negative
21 cm x 17.5 cm
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

The reflection of Eugène Atget’s (1857-1927) camera is an appealing detail in this photographic record of Parisian architecture from the turn of the century. Atget’s photographs had a primarily documentary role – this image was purchased by the V&A in 1903 as an illustration of Parisian ironwork. Yet it carries a strangeness which has fascinated 20th-century photographers. His photographs acquired artistic status in the mid-1920s when they were ‘discovered’ by artists associated with Surrealism. (Text from theV&A website)

This photograph is an albumen print, contact printed by Atget from a 24 x 18 glass negative. The dark shapes of two clips which held the negative in place on the right edge of the image are visible. This image was one of many photographs bought by the V&A directly from Atget, in this case, in 1903. This photograph would have been bought as simply an illustration of ironwork in Paris.

The albumen process was almost never used by the early 1900s, so the image can be dated to the 19th century. The use of this developing process also supports the non-art status intended for the photograph. There is, however, an ambiguity in the reading of this image and most strongly in the reflection in the door of the street and Atget with his camera. This is one of a number of Atget images where it is possible to see why his photographs have fascinated 20th-century photographers; it carries, whether intended or not, a strangeness which invests the image with potential meaning beyond its primarily documentary role. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Pierre Jahan. 'Autoportrait à Velo ('Self-portrait on bike') ' 1935

 

Pierre Jahan
Autoportrait à Velo (‘Self-portrait on bike’)
June 1944
Gelatin silver print
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Here, Jahan seems to have paused while cycling through the streets of Paris to snap himself in a mirror. His dangling cigarette and precarious perch on the bicycle suggest spontaneity, but the design of his camera demanded a deliberate approach. A Reflex-Korelle, manufactured in Dresden, it usually required the operator to hold it at waist level and look down into the viewfinder.

 

Unknown. Vernacular photograph c. 1940s

 

 

Unknown
Vernacular photograph
c. 1940s
Gelatin silver print
71 mm x 98 mm
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Vernacular portrait photograph of a woman in front of a fence, using a camera held at chest height. Photographer unknown, c.1940s. Gelatin silver print, from the collection of Peter Cohen, given as part of a group of 50 photographs featuring cameras.

 

Elsbeth Juda. 'Mediterranean Fortnight' 1953

 

Elsbeth Juda 
Mediterranean Fortnight
1953
© Siobhan Davies

 

 

Elsbeth Juda (1911-2014) was a British fashion photographer who worked for more than 20 years as photographer and editor on The Ambassador magazine. This image was shot at an archaeological site in Cyprus for a story on British fashion abroad. The model appears to pose for a local tintype photographer with a homemade looking camera. Tintype, also called ferrotype, was an early photographic process which produced an underexposed negative using a thin metal plate. Tintype photography was around 100 years old when Juda took this shot. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Armet Francis. 'Self-portrait in Mirror' 1964

 

Armet Francis
Self-portrait in Mirror
1964
© Armet Francis

 

 

Armet Francis was born in Jamaica in 1945 and moved to London at the age of ten. His photographic career began in his mid-teens when he worked as an assistant for a West End photographic studio. His early photographs show him experimenting with the camera as a technical device and a tool for self-representation. The camera in this self-portrait is a Yashica-Mat LM twin lens reflex, an all-mechanical model introduced in 1958, with an inbuilt light meter. It records his identity as a professional photographer, while the surrounding scene offers an intimate glimpse into his personal life. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Judy Dater. 'Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite' 1974

 

Judy Dater
Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite
1974
© Judy Dater

 

Cameras in photographs can also emphasise the inherent voyeurism of the medium. Judy Dater explores this theme in her well-known image of the fully clothed photographer Imogen Cunningham posed as if about to snap nude model Twinka Thiebaud.

Dater met Imogen Cunningham, a prominent American photographer, in 1964. Cunningham acted as a mentor to Dater, and the two became close friends. This image is from Dater’s larger series addressing the theme of voyeurism, in particular the idea of someone clothed watching someone nude. Voyeurism is a recurring motif in photography, as the practice often involves observing and recording others.

 

 

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29
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Weegee: Murder Is My Business’ at the International Center of Photography, New York

Exhibition dates: 20th January – 2nd September 2012

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Weegee
Untitled [Anthony Esposito, booked on suspicion of killing a policeman, New York]
January 16, 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
The dead man’s wife arrived…and then she collapsed
ca. 1940
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Girl jumped out of car, and was killed, on Park Ave.,
ca. 1938
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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“People are so wonderful that a photographer has only to wait for that breathless moment to capture what he wants on film… and when that split second of time is gone, it’s dead and can never be brought back.”

“For the pictures… I was on the scene; sometimes drawn there by some power I can’t explain, and I caught the New Yorkers with their masks off… not afraid to Laugh, Cry, or Make Love. What I felt I photographed, laughing and crying with them.”

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Arthur Fellig (aka Weegee, 1899-1968)

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“Weegee’s work is connected by an umbilical cord to darkness; his images emerged from Gotham City’s nocturnal penumbra, spectrally streaked by streetlights, lit brightly only where there was a human focus, a tabloid John Alton at work.

Weegee called it his “Rembrandt light” as he caught the human protagonists in the white glare of his photo flash, the scene otherwise enveloped in darkness. Weegee’s news pictures were never haphazard snapshots, albeit they were taken by a man who had happenstance and chance as his helpmates; he and his camera, with its flash, seem to have a fateful meeting with his human subjects; pictures seem perfectly arranged, and what we focus on is their human content. Weegee is the quintessential noir photographer.”

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Mark Svetov. Life and Death (Mostly Death) in the Streets (2010) on American Suburb X website

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If you want a good read about the life and times of Weegee then Mark Svetov’s Life and Death (Mostly Death) in the Streets (2010) on American Suburb X website is the way to go. I can’t really add much to this excellent piece of writing in terms of the history of the man and the social milieu in which he surrounded himself. What I can comment on are my personal feelings about his photographs.

Weegee’s photographs are no masterpiece of fine art printing, they are rough and direct, and I love them all the more for this quality. Their roughness – all sellotaped over, edges cut at odd angles, drawn and written on – only adds to their power and immediacy. If you can call photographs of dead bodies in the street vibrant and alive, then these photographs are just that. Svetov sees Weegee as the quintessential noir photographer; I see him not so much as that but as a sensitive, formalist photographer, a wonderful collagist and an artist who is a precursor to the pop art of the mid-late 1950s (think Warhol’s screen prints of the electric chair, or his mangled car crash series).

In the installation photographs of the exhibition Weegee: Murder Is My Business at the Photo League, New York (1941, see below) you get a sense of this master of assemblage, the animator and promoter (another pop trait!) at work. The large prints are casually pinned to the back board, surrounded by drawings of guns with smoke emanating from their barrels, cause of death certificates, photographs of Weegee himself “On the Spot”, Weegee’s press pass, newspaper clippings about the man and his work (including a photograph of his tiny bedroom) where Weegee “introduces” himself to his audience. The photographs flow around the room, from Faces, to Murder and Society. People are drawn into the aura of these photographs, you can see them leaning forward to take in every detail. They peer intently at the them trying to decipher every nuance of the narrative being told (the frequent hats lying about, the discarded pistols, the hand emerging from underneath the draped sheet).

As Svetov notes, Weegee’s news pictures were never haphazard snapshots, for they always seem perfectly arranged. Underneath the spontaneity and the humanism imparted by the artist is that fact that Weegee is a master of formalism. He knows exactly how to structure the picture plane as a classical pianist knows how to bring alive the themes of a Mozart sonata. Usually arriving before any other photographer because he lived opposite the police station and had a police radio in his car, Weegee “cased the joint” as I would put it, prowling quickly around the scene to get the best angle, the best shot before other photographers arrived or the scene was closed off by police. This instinctive framing only comes through having a good eye and training that eye so that what to shoot and how to crop the scene “in camera” becomes second nature.

Evidence of the formal structure implicit in Weegee’s photographs can be seen in my analysis of two photographs Line-Up for Night Court (ca. 1941, below) and Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris Linker from East River, New York (August 24, 1943, below). In the first image the epicentre (or the enigma if you like) of the photograph is the dance of hands at the lower centre of the image, formed by two triangles and emphasised by two radial diagonals. The top points of the upper triangle are anchored by the men and women at both windows (see detail photographs), the patriarchal men in suit and tie at one window – a detective, a chief of police? – separated from the woman at another. Weegee’s splits this triangle with his frieze of faces showing the depths of human despair, despondency and ambivalence.

The second image has a much more complicated structure. In the first analysis we observe the different horizontal, vertical and diagonal planes as they march up the photograph. The “heart” of this image, where the yellow lines cross, is actually a point of absence. Look at the real photograph: it is the heart shaped empty space between the man’s outstretched hands that form the emotional centre of the image. In the second analysis we can simplify this down into a zigzagging line that passes directly through this point. To see this, to assess this and visualise the flowing movement in a split second is in any visual language outstanding. Weegee wasn’t averse to manipulating his images to achieve the desired result. The photograph Hold up man killed (November 24, 1941, below) shows his notations over the top of the image, the crop he envisaged and the words “Take out hat” and “Make sock black” so that he achieved the desired dynamic within the photograph.

Weegee was a master of flash and the use of foreshortening – to create atmosphere in the first instance and used as a visual entre into the photographs in the second. Sometimes he combines both. The policeman at left in Line-Up for Night Court is both out of focus and the highlights (his face) are blown out by the flash. Does this matter: not one iota, for the policeman “grounds” the whole left hand side of the image. Again, in Murder (ca. 1940, below) the backside of the policeman is blown out by the flash but this only leads the eye of the viewer to the foreshortened body of the murder victim nestled in the crook of his knee and then onto the starkly lit pram, beyond. Finally, in Hold up man killed (November 24, 1941, below) the feet of the hold up man actually lead the viewer into the space between the two policeman’s shoes were the Surgeon from Gouverneur Hospital crouches over the body. Weegee also loved to weave detail into his images, so that even though the story is about human content, as Svetov observes, it is just as much about human materiality as well: notice the reflection of people in the car bonnet in At an East Side Murder (1943, below) at lower left and then the procession of worn shoes and the bagginess of the trousers – I didn’t realised they wore their trousers so baggy in the 1940s!

Svetlov sees Weegee’s photgraphs as containing an almost sacred squalor, a brash but anguished cry in an endless nightscape with nothing judgemental or distanced about them. I concur with the last part for Weegee was a man of the people whom he photographed. On the other points I am less sure: to me they are about light not darkness. They are about the aftermath of atrocity, of living, human beings dealing with death and its consequences. I see nothing sacred about this squalor. The photographs are about shining a light into darkness, the darkness that every human being must confront: the fact that we all have to die, somewhere, sometime, in the end.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the International Center of Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Weegee
Untitled [Installation view of “Weegee: Murder Is My Business” at the Photo League, New York]
1941
Silver gelatin photographs
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Text and captions from the original Murder Is My Business exhibition:

  • “Introducing Weegee”
  • “Due to an increase in MURDERS The Photo League presents 2nd Edition of “MURDER IS MY BUSNESS” by Weegee”
  • “Weegee Lives For His Work And Thinks Before Shooting” (newspaper headline on the “Weegee” board at left)
  • “This space reserved for the latest muders”
  • “MURDER Manhattan bloodbath”
  • “Arthur Fellig Photographer / Do not disturbe / Except in case of Fire, Murder or Snow Storm” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Why did you kill your Sweetie”?  (caption underneath photograph)
  • “HUMAN BODY MINUS HEAD FOUND ON STREET” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Cop & human head in package” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Killed her husband after drinking brawl” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Just a cheap murder” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “My man” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Who done that” (caption underneath photograph)

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“Weegee’s captions provided a visceral vernacular for the almost-sacred squalor of his imagery (see “Weegee’s Words” for a sampling). Taken together, they packed more than a mere punch; they were a brash but anguished cry in an endless nightscape. More than mere documents of a violent era, they also exuded a humanity that could only come from the photographer himself. There was nothing judgmental or distanced in Weegee’s work; he was the antithesis of the “slickers” who worked for glossy magazines. He remained a man essentially from the same New York working-class as the people he chose to photograph.”

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Mark Svetov. Life and Death (Mostly Death) in the Streets (2010) on American Suburb X website

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Weegee
Untitled [“Ruth Snyder Murder” wax display, Eden Musée, Coney Island, New York]
ca. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Unidentified Photographer
On the Spot
December 9, 1939
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Line-Up for Night Court
ca. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Construction of the pictorial plane in Line-Up for Night Court

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Weegee
Line-Up for Night Court (details)
ca. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
At an East Side Murder
1943
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
At an East Side Murder (details)
1943
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Untitled [Hats in a pool room, Mulberry Street, New York]
ca. 1943
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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“Gangland murders, gruesome car crashes, and perilous tenement fires were for the photographer Weegee (1899-1968) the staples of his flashlit black-and-white work as a freelance photojournalist in the mid­1930s. Such graphically dramatic and sometimes sensationalistic photographs of New York crimes and news events set the standard for what has since become known as tabloid journalism. In fact, for one intense decade, between 1935 and 1946, Weegee was perhaps the most relentlessly inventive figure in American photography. A surprising new exhibition at the International Center of Photography (1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street), titled Weegee: Murder Is My Business and organized by ICP Chief Curator Brian Wallis, will present some rare examples of Weegee’s most famous and iconic images, and will consider his early work in the context of its original presentation in historical newspapers and exhibitions, as well as Weegee’s own books and films.

Taking its title from Weegee’s self-curated exhibition at the Photo League in 1941, Murder Is My Business looks at the urban violence and mayhem that was the focus of his early work. As a freelance photographer at a time when New York City had at least eight daily newspapers and when wire services were just beginning to handle photos, Weegee was challenged to capture unique images of newsworthy events and distribute them quickly. He worked almost exclusively at night, setting out from his small apartment across from police headquarters when news of a new crime came chattering across his police-band radio receiver. Often arriving before the police themselves, Weegee carefully cased each scene to discover the best angle. Murders, he claimed, were the easiest to photograph because the subjects never moved or got temperamental.

Weegee’s rising career as a news photographer in the 1930s coincided with the heyday of Murder Inc., the Jewish gang from Brownsville who served as paid hitmen for The Syndicate, a confederation of mostly Italian crime bosses in New York. As a wave of governmental and legal crackdowns swept the city between 1935 and 1941, the rate of organized murders of small-time wiseguys and potential stool pigeons increased dramatically. Weegee often worked closely with the police but also befriended high-profile criminals like Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, and Legs Diamond. Weegee called himself the “official photographer for Murder Inc.” and claimed to have covered 5,000 murders, a count that is perhaps only slightly exaggerated. In asserting the true nature of his business, Weegee proudly displayed his check stub from LIFE magazine that paid him $35 for two murders, slightly more, he said, for the one that used more bullets.

Selling his photographs to a variety of New York newspapers in the 1930s, and later working as a stringer for the short-lived daily newspaper PM (1940-48), Weegee established a highly subjective approach to both photographs and texts that was distinctly different from that promoted in most dailies and picture magazines. Utilizing other distribution venues, Weegee also wrote extensively (including his autobiographical Naked City, published in 1945) and organized his own exhibitions at the Photo League, the influential photographic organization that promoted politically committed pictures, particularly of the working classes. In 1941, Weegee installed two back-to-back exhibitions in the League’s headquarters. This visibility helped promote Weegee’s growing reputation as a news photographer, and he began stamping his prints “Weegee the Famous.” The general acceptance of his punchy photographic style, which did not shy away from lower-class subjects and humanistic narratives, led to the acquisition of his work by the Museum of Modern Art and inclusion in two group shows there, in 1943 and 1945.

“Weegee has often been dismissed as an aberration or as a naive photographer, but he was in fact one of the most original and enterprising photojournalists of the 1930s and ’40s. His best photographs combine wit, daring, and surprisingly original points of view, particularly when considered in light of contemporaneous press photos and documentary photography. He favored unabashedly low-culture or tabloid subjects and approaches, but his Depression-era New York photographs need to be considered seriously alongside other key documentarians of the thirties, such as Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, Walker Evans, and Berenice Abbott,” said Wallis.

The exhibition will feature over 100 original photographs, drawn primarily from the comprehensive Weegee Archive of over 20,000 prints at ICP, as well as period newspapers, magazines, and films. It will also include partial reconstructions of Weegee’s studio and his Photo League exhibition. The four galleries will each feature a touch-screen monitor allowing visitors to explore further details regarding the images and artifacts in that room.”

Press release from the ICP

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Weegee
Untitled [Body of Dominick Didato, Elizabeth Street, New York]
August 7, 1936
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Murder
ca. 1940
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Untitled [Police officer and lodge member looking at blanket-covered body of woman trampled to death in excursion-ship stampede, New York]
August 18, 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Hold up man killed
November 24, 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Untitled [Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris Linker from East River, New York]
August 24, 1943
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Pictorial construction of Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris

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International Center of Photography
1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street
New York NY 10036
T: 212 857 0045

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Wednesday: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Thursday – Friday: 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Saturday – Sunday: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Closed: Mondays

International Center of Photography website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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