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Weegee

Austrian-American Photographer

Weegee Photo

Born: June 12, 1899 - Lemberg, Austria (now in Ukraine)

Died: December 27, 1968 - New York City, USA

"To me a photograph is a page from life, and that being the case, it must be real."

Weegee Signature

Summary of Weegee

Weegee was a legendary news photographer, whose stock and trade were candid shots of people in the streets, in bars, and at crime scenes. His professional name was Weegee (spelled phonetically), after the popular fortune-telling game, Ouija board, to which his supposed sixth sense for crime was compared. This "sense" led him to the scene well ahead of the police - although it turns out that he actually had his radio tuned to the police frequency. Thus, Weegee created his own legend and reveled in his own notoriety. Yet, more importantly, his voyeuristic photographs exhibited the underbelly of New York City, melding popular culture with the experience of immigrants and the working classes, catching the attention of both the news media and the fine art community.

Key Ideas

Weegee's Photojournalism focused on the picture's narrative content and visual punch, making his human interest stories novel. They drew attention to the extremes and foibles of the city crowd, who constitute an unknown underworld. As historian Graham Clarke points out, Weegee thus "images a secret city: murder victims, muggers, transvestites,... [as well as private moments] - anything that might feed his hungry eye in search of the sensational and murky photograph."
Weegee worked at the PM Daily paper which established a new model of reportage that Weegee took full advantage of to introduce new subjects as well as expand his own repertoire of images to include crime scenes, street people, and circus performers. His photographs had their own meaning, and served as a source for various kinds of photo-essays, which ultimately appear in his photo book Naked City.
Like the progressive press he worked for, Weegee was caught up in the field's newness, sense of possibility, and influence. He therefore organized his last chapter in Naked City as a long essay on what he called "Camera Tips." He told aspiring photographers, "Don't try to guess focus, just practice six and ten feet." He advised amateur photographers, tempted by the fancy new flashes, against using them and told them "I still use a flash bulb." The press flash-gun, Weegee's preferred mode of illumination, literally exposed his subjects in a sensational manner.
Weegee Photo

Weegee was born Usher Fellig on June 12, 1899 near the city of Lemberg, Austria, what is today Zolochiv, Ukraine. Yet, his story begins once he immigrated with his family to the United States in 1909 at age 11. Upon arriving at Ellis Island, his name was immediately changed to the more American sounding Arthur. Like most immigrants, Arthur grew up in extreme poverty, and spent his childhood living in a Lower East Side tenement building in New York City, along with his parents and three other siblings. His father, Bernard Fellig, sold goods from a pushcart around the neighborhood for a meager wage. Bernard became an ordained orthodox rabbi and kept the Sabbath, even though it hindered him from earning money for his family.

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