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Weegee's New York Photographs, 1935-1960
Weegee's New York Photographs, 1935-1960

Famous Photographers >> Weegee

Weegee (real name Arthur Fellig) (1899 - 1968) was an American photographer and photojournalist.

Weegee was born Usher Fellig in Zloczew (Zloczów) near Lemberg, Austrian Galicia (now Zolochiv, Ukraine). His name was changed to Arthur when he came with his family to live in New York in 1910, fleeing anti-semitism.

Fellig's nickname was a phonetic rendering of Ouija, due to his frequent arrival at scenes only minutes after crimes, fires or other emergencies were reported to authorities. He is variously said to have named himself Weegee, or to have been named by either the girls at Acme or by a police officer.

He is best known as a candid news photographer whose stark black-and-white shots documented street life in New York City. Weegee's photos of crime scenes, car-wreck victims in pools of their own blood, overcrowded urban beaches and various grotesques are still shocking.

In 1938, Fellig was the only reporter with a permit to have a portable police-band shortwave radio in his car, and he maintained a complete darkroom in his trunk, to expedite getting his free-lance product to the newspapers. Weegee worked mostly at night; he listened closely to broadcasts and often beat authorities to the scene.

Most of his photos were taken with a 4x5 Speed Graphic camera preset at f/16 at 1/200 of a second with a flash. He had no formal training, and was a self-taught photographer and relentless self-promoter. He is sometimes said not to have had any knowledge of the New York art photography scene; but in 1943 The Museum of Modern Art included several of his photos in an exhibition, he was later included in another MoMA show organised by Edward Steichen, and he lectured at the New School for Social Research. He also undertook advertising and editorial work for Life and Vogue magazines, among others.

His acclaimed first book collections of photographs, Naked City (1945), became the inspiration for a major 1948 movie The Naked City, and later the title of a pioneering realistic television police drama series.

Weegee also made short 16mm films from 1941, and worked with and in Hollywood from 1946 to the early 1960s as an actor and consultant. In 1958 he was an uncredited special effects consultant for Stanley Kubrick's film, Dr. Strangelove. His accent was purportedly the inspiration for the accent of the title character in the movie.

In the 1950s and 60s Weegee experimented with panoramic photographs, photo distortions, and photography through prisms. He also travelled widely in Europe in the 1960s, and took advantage of the liberal atmosphere in Europe to photograph nudes.

" First immigration American, Weegee (1899–1968) is the archetypal tabloid photographer of the twentieth century. Preferring to photograph under the cover of night, he was known for his aggressive use of flash. Weegee’s photographic eye was unstoppable: drawn to the grotesque, the illicit, the illegal, Weegee delivered both harrowing and poignant photographs of crime scenes and criminals to New York’s tabloid-reading public in the 1930s and 1940s. Named after the ‘Ouija board’ for his uncanny ability to arrive at the scene of a crime before the police, Weegee recorded the dark side of New York’s streets. No sordid crime seemed to escape his flash and no crime was too gruesome to capture on camera for the papers the next day. Weegee’s understanding of people’s simultaneous repulsion and attraction to vivid photographs of crimes of passion, murder, brutal accidents was well before his time. Even today, his photographs still have the power to shock, and the originality of the images has elevated them in importance far beyond the newspapers he worked for." From description of Weegee, by Kerry William Purcell.

See also: Social Documentary Photography

Further Information

Recommended Reading

Weegee, Aperture Masters of Photography Weegee by Kerry William Purcell Weegee: Naked New York Weegee: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum
Weegee, Aperture Masters of Photography Weegee by Kerry William Purcell Weegee: Naked New York Weegee: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum

On the Web

Weegee's World Life Death and the Human Drama from International Center of Photography Midtown.

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Weegee".