Friday, June 09, 2006

Weegee:F8 and Be There

Weegee As Blogger?

After attending the ICP opening last night of Weegee's undiscovered photos , I decided to republish this post I wrote in March.

Reading all the tabloid buzz about the rape and killing of Imette St. Guillen, reminded me of Weegee, the photographer who invented a whole new genre for us photojournalists, even as he photographed murders. If Weegee were alive today he would take to blogging like a fish to water...posting his pix in real time. Instead of smoking cigars while souping his prints in hypo Weegee today would probably be found at the closest Starbuck's with a PC, uploading his pix using wireless.

Weegee, born in Poland in 1899, took the name Arthur Felig when he imigrated to New York with his family at nine. This freelance photographer worked out of the trunk of his car which he used as darkroom through the 30's and 40's as he photographed the daily dish of newsworthy images for tabloids and the wire services. Equipped with a police scanner he roamed the city in search of its darker side...its latest murders, fires or robberies. In my previous post I briefly mentioned Weegee's pix of people watching movies, Weegee's World: Movie Goers that this consumate voyeur took in theaters using infrared film, his subjects unaware. The Side Photographic Gallery collection of Weegee photographs includes photos in a slideshow, as well, some of which I have never seen before.

Untitled (In the Movie House Watching "Haunting of Hill House")
ca. 1950, Photo Copyright Arthur Felig

"He will take his camera and ride off in search of new evidence that his city, even in her most drunken and disorderly and pathetic moments, is beautiful."

- William McCleery in Naked City

Sammy's Bowery Follies

When I read about Imette's last minutes at the Lower-East Side haunt the Falls, I thought of Weegee's Bowery Follies, where Weegee snapped pix breaks between photographing murders to catch scenes of humanity. The photos taken at Sammy's,

...was the scene of many of Weegee's most lighthearted and humanistic photographs, a great contrast to what was taking place on the street or curb or just outside the front door. The "poor man's Stork Club" became a refuge for Weegee, a safe haven allowing him to escape the blood and guts that his more salable photographs contained.
-Miles Barth

"F8 and Be There"

"F8 and Be There," Weegee was fond of saying. Using guide numbers for his flash he set the aperture on his Speed Graphic 4x5 press camera to insure enough depth of field to keep everything sharp. Stepping back he measured the space between his camera and the subject. Emotional distance was as important for Weegee as were the actual footsteps he had to take to insure that his pictures were properly exposed.

"His spontaneous, witty, and meaningful work went beyond that of a news photographer. He once said that he wished to show that ten and a half million people lived together in a state of total loneliness," Lee Gallery tells us.

As far as education, Weegee made it through the eighth grade. However, the family needed money and Weegee was needed to help work. He worked a lot of odd jobs: he helped his father with a push cart business, he even worked at a candy store for a while. It was when he had his picture taken by a street tintype photographer that he decided that this was what he was meant to do. Weegee often said that he was, 'a natural-born photographer, with hypo in my blood.' He quickly ordered a tintype outfit from a Chicago mail-order house, and after a few months he got his first job as a commercial photographer. After a few years he left the studio, due to a disagreement on what he should be paid. He then bought a second-hand 5x7 view camera and rented a pony from a local stable. He named the pony Hypo, and on the weekends when the kids were in their best clothes, he would walk around town putting kids on his pony and taking their picture. He would then develop the negatives, make prints, and go back to the families of the kids to try to sell them the photos.
Introduction to The Side Photographic Gallery collection of Weegee photographs

The web-site Weegee's World: Life, Death and the Human Drama was created in conjunction with the publication of Weegee's World by Miles Barth an exhibition at the International Center of Photography Midtown that was up from November 21, 1997 through March 8, 1998. It's worthy of a visit and proof that a web-site insures posterity for a " bricks and mortar" exhibition even after its photographs are taken down to make way for the next one.

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