Monday, December 8, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Weegee: The man

Black and White.

It tears down the pretty colors and shows up the shadows. It makes history factual, inquiries interesting, and death loses the gruesome flavor when blood is just another shade of reality.

Weegee, aka Arthur Fellig, made B&W sing, and gave homage to the human condition with every pop of the flashbulb.

As quoted from the NY Times:
"Born Usher Fellig in 1899, in an eastern province of Austria, he came with his family through Ellis Island (where his name was Americanized to Arthur) to the Lower East Side in 1910. He left home as a teenager and began working as an assistant to a street photographer who shot tintypes of children on a pony. Through the 1920s he worked as a darkroom assistant at The New York Times and Acme Newspictures, which was later absorbed by U.P.I. Photos."

Eventually, he would be the toast of Manhattan and a world renown artist, book writer, and exhibitor of 'art'.

But first, there were the years of being a hard working schlub on the lower east side.Weegee lived in a single room at 5 Centre Market Place from the mid-1930s to 1947, a drab block of tenements inhabited by reporters and photographers who worked the crime beat. No. 4, known as “the shack,” was their main hangout. Frank Lava’s gunsmith shop, with its wooden revolver sign, was at No. 6. Weegee lived over the John Jovino Gun Shop at 5.

Living in a single room- existing really- he waited for the next big thing, the next small movement, the next police call, knock on the door, celebrity event, or the sound of gunfire.

“Crime was my oyster,” Weegee wrote in his 1961 memoir, “Weegee by Weegee.” “I was friend and confidant to them all. The bookies, madams, gamblers, call girls, pimps, con men, burglars and jewel fencers.” For his behind-bars portraits of famous gangsters like Dutch Schultz, Legs Diamond, Waxey Gordon and Mad Dog Coll, colleagues called him “the official photographer for Murder, Inc.”

Monday, December 1, 2008

Life and Times

The neighborhood he lived in was diverse, to say the least.

In Weegee’s day culture clashes between the haves and the have-nots happened at Sammy’s Bowery Follies (267 Bowery, between East Houston and Stanton Streets), which from 1934 to 1970 attracted what The New York Times once described as a mixed crowd of “drunks and swells, drifters and celebrities, the rich and the forgotten.”

Sammy's was the place Weegee celebrated both his books being published as well as other major events.

Weegee (who disparaged The Times as a paper for the “well-off Manhattan establishment”) called Sammy’s “the poor man’s Stork Club” and wrote in the newspaper PM in 1944: “There’s no cigarette girl — a vending machine puts out cigarettes for a penny apiece. There’s no hatcheck girl — patrons prefer to dance with their hats and coats on. But there is a lulu of a floor show.”

Norma Devine is Sammy's Mae West, December 4, 1944

Bowery Savings Bank, December 4, 1944

Among the regulars, he wrote in his 1945 book, “Naked City,” was a woman they called Pruneface and a midget who walked the streets dressed as a penguin to promote cigarettes. When the midget got drunk, Weegee wrote, he “offered to fight any man his size in the house.”

in 1946 at the party for Weegee’s second book, “Weegee’s People.” Pretty uptown blondes and dowagers in pearls mingle with toothless crones and panhandlers, as models parade in their foundation garments, and a man with a flea circus puts his tiny performers through their paces.

The club, long gone, now is the site of a less eccentric clientele.


The proprietor of a cafe at 10 Prince Street, where a coffee shop is today, was smoking a cigarette outside on the evening of Nov. 16, 1939, when an unknown gunman shot him dead. When Weegee arrived moments later, the body was still lying in the doorway, and the fire escapes of all the tenements on the block, which remain largely unchanged today, were crowded with gawkers. He captioned the photograph “Balcony Seats at a Murder.”