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.”

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Kentucky Suitcase

From art


INDIANAPOLIS.- The Indianapolis Museum of Art announced today that it has received a gift of 210 photographs by acclaimed artist Weegee (Arthur Fellig, 1899-1968) as well as nearly 100 documents relating to his life.
The collection, which is believed to have belonged at one time to Weegee's long-time companion Wilma Wilcox, contains photographs spanning Weegee's career and portraying all aspects of his idiosyncratic subject matter.

Also included are numerous portraits of the artist, and various ephemera such as letters and postcards from Weegee to Wilma, newspaper clippings, press passes, and even Weegee's Social Security card.
The collection is a partial gift of Steven H. Nowlin, and a partial purchase by the Caroline Marmon Fesler Fund and the Alliance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The Weegee collection, considered second only to that from the artist’s estate at the I C P in New York, was discovered in a trunk at a farmhouse yard sale in southern Kentucky in 2003 and acquired by Indianapolis historic documents dealer Steve H. Nowlin the same year.
It includes works ranging from crime photographs, Harlem in the 1940s, audiences at jazz concerts or in darkened movie theaters taken surreptitiously with infrared film, strippers, transvestites, Greenwich Village in the 1950s, and distortions of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Picasso, Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.


Kentucky Yard Sale Yields a Trove of Weegee Images

By RANDY KENNEDY June 3, 2008
Correction Appended

"As letters go, they aren’t exactly the stuff of literature. One from 1959 asks that the recipient phone Con Edison and complain about an unusually high electric bill ($54.92). Another requests a shipment of beloved New York cigars because of apparent dissatisfaction with the options available in Europe. At least one, written from the Regina-Palast Hotel in Munich, Room 551, starts to provide a hint of the sender.


“Looks like the picture won’t be finished on time,” the letter explains. “It rains every day and we can’t find 2 midgets, so it looks like I’ll be here at least 2 more weeks.”
The letters, along with 210 vintage black-and-white photographic prints, were found in 2003 in a zebra-stripe trunk that was bought at a yard sale in Kentucky by two Indiana women who were on their way back from a camping trip. One of the women simply liked the look of the trunk, and when she found old clothes, yellowed papers and pictures inside, she thought about throwing the contents away.


But she took them instead to an Indianapolis rare-documents dealer. And this week the Indianapolis Museum of Art plans to announce that it has acquired a trove of work and correspondence by Weegee, the crepuscular, stogie-smoking New York photographer whose visceral pictures became a template not only for artists like Diane Arbus but also for much of the uncomfortably close tabloid imagery that exists today. The museum described the acquisition as a partial gift and partial purchase from the dealer.


The trunk is assumed to have once been the possession of Wilma Wilcox, a social worker who was Weegee’s companion and lived with him from 1957 until his death in 1968. Upon her death in 1993, she bequeathed the bulk of his work — thousands of prints and negatives — to the I C P in Manhattan. How the trunk full of prints and 62 letters to Ms. Wilcox from Weegee (born Usher Fellig in what is now Ukraine, and later known as Arthur Fellig) ended up in Kentucky is a mystery that neither the Indianapolis Museum nor the dealer, Steve H. Nowlin, has solved.
The items include photographs spanning his career, as well as letters, postcards, newspaper clippings, Weegee’s press passes and even his Social Security card. And there are about three dozen portraits of Weegee taken by others, including photographers Philippe Halsman and Simon Nathan.


“We’re just lucky that it all survived,” said Martin Krause, the museum’s curator of prints, drawings and photographs. “The woman who found them thought maybe these were just old family snapshots or something — though how you could mistake a Weegee for a family photograph, I don’t know.”
“People who work in the daytime are suckers,” he once said. Before the publication of his first book, “Naked City,” made him famous in 1945, he lived in a cheap room near police headquarters and was said to be so accustomed to working on the run that he once developed a picture of a prizefight in a subway motorman’s cab while rushing back to a newspaper office.
As his star rose in the 1950s and 1960s, he began to travel extensively, make experimental films and worked for other directors, some as illustrious as Stanley Kubrick, for whom he served as a consultant during the filming of “Dr. Strangelove.”
But as many of the newly discovered letters to Ms. Wilcox show, much of his film career was on a lower plane. The letter from Munich refers to his work on a 1958 quasi-documentary called “Windjammer,” the story of an epic sea journey filmed in something called Cinemiracle, a short-lived widescreen format. (In fact, very short-lived: “Windjammer” was the only movie to be shot with that method.)

Nowlin said one series of photographs came from an exhibit of paintings by Pablo Picasso in London that the artist attended. “Weegee befriended him and took pictures of Picasso, and distorted pictures of Picasso’s distorted pictures.”



The murder site today:
10 Prince St. New York, N.Y. ca. 1939

10 Prince St. New York, N.Y. March 03, 2008



His room at 5 Center Market Place, with a visitor, Gordon "Moon" Mullins...




Scene of the Crime: Images at the Getty 2005-2006

Cop Killer

© International Center of Photography

American, New York City, 1941; print, about 1950
Gelatin silver print
13 1/4 x 10 9/16 in.

Their First Murder

© International Center of Photography

American, New York City, October 9, 1941; print, about 1950
Gelatin silver print
10 1/8 x 11 in.

This picture was originally published with the headline "Brooklyn School Children See Gambler Murdered in Street," and this caption: "Pupils were just leaving P.S. 143 when a small-time gambler, pulled up at a traffic light a block from the school. Up to the car stepped a waiting gunman, who fired twice and escaped through the throng of children..." The image is a good example of how flash changes the scene, casting background detail into generalized darkness.

Fire Alarm / A Couple Driven out from the Burning Tenement
Fire Alarm / Weegee
© International Center of Photography

American, April 23, 1944
Gelatin silver print
13 3/8 x 10 9/16 in.

Weegee points out in his book Naked City (1945) that his fire pictures were not only destined for the news media but were also useful as evidence "for the detectives and fire marshals who are always on the scene...on the look out for pyromaniacs" and to end disputes about who actually made the rescues, since "different firemen will take credit." The publication PM ran this image nearly full page on April 23, 1944, with details about how the city's Emergency Welfare Division assisted citizens who were burned out of their homes.

Couple Kissing in a Bar
Couple Kissing / Weegee
© International Center of Photography

American, negative, about 1942; print, about 1950
Gelatin silver print
13 1/8 x 10 1/2 in.

Weegee never let an embrace escape his camera. At least that would appear to be the case based on the enormous number of kissing couples found in his archive after his death and their appearance in publications of his work, from a section in Naked City (1945) called "Lovemaking on the Beach," to a 1947 Look magazine article on contemporary American morals, to the posthumous book, The Village (1989), which features an abundance of young lovers.

When Weegee wanted to shoot "people doing things they never would do if they thought I was watching them," he would often use a triangular prism lens attachment to "see around corners."

The Critic
The Critic / Weegee
© International Center of Photography

American, November 22, 1943
Gelatin silver print
10 1/8 x 12 15/16 in.

The Critic, presenting Mrs. George W. Kavanaugh, her friend Lady Decies, and a bystander brought by Weegee from a Bowery bar, became one of the photographer's best-known works. Life magazine cropped the picture to eliminate the "plain people" at left in its November 22, 1943, coverage of the fall Metropolitan Opera opening.

Songstress at Sammy's / Dora
Songstress / Weegee
© International Center of Photography

American, April 16, 1944
Gelatin silver print
13 9/16 x 10 9/16 in.

Sammy Fuchs, founder of Sammy's on the Bowery in New York City, offered entertainment as well as drink. There, Dora, Billie Dauscha, Mabel Sidney, and others performed, singing "sentimental songs," as Weegee referred to them, for an audience that usually ranged from uptown swells to flophouse residents.

Customers of all types flocked to Sammy's as it gained a reputation for being what Weegee called "the poor man's Stork Club," an alternative to that highbrow nightclub. Weegee devoted a section titled "The Bowery" to Sammy's in his book Naked City (1945); Fuchs, in turn, hosted a raucous publication party for the author.

At the Concert in Harlem
At the Concert / Weegee
© International Center of Photography

American, negative, before 1946; print, about 1950
Gelatin silver print
13 7/16 x 10 11/16 in.

When Weegee compiled his second book, Weegee's People (1946), he concentrated on the social life of New Yorkers and chose many Harlem images, including this one. The book's extensive "Saturday Night" section contains pictures of dancers, performers, and partygoers enjoying themselves in nightclubs, bars, and dance halls.

Perhaps made at the Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Avenue, a popular venue for musicians like Duke Ellington, or the Apollo Theater on 125th Street, a great success with black and white audiences, this composition displays Weegee's trademark use of the unconscious gesture.

The Fountain / Face of the Villiage [sic]
The Fountain / Weegee
© International Center of Photography

American, about 1955
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 7 in.

Weegee claimed that Greenwich Village was for him what the Montmartre section of Paris had been for the French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He photographed this downtown community of artists, writers, and radicals for decades and compiled a book dummy of selected images, which was issued posthumously in 1989 as The Village.

Weegee's opening statement to the book reflects his reasons for recording the neighborhood: "I continually photographed the Village...compiling a memento of a place that seemed to be fast disappearing. New York University is tearing down all the old buildings and putting up more classrooms so they can teach Ceramics, Square Dancing, and primitive Painting à la Grandma Moses."

Billie Dauscha and Mabel Sidney, Bowery Entertainers

© International Center of Photography

American, New York City, December, 1944; print, about 1950
Gelatin silver print
13 1/8 x 10 9/16 in.

Weegee, New York
Weegee / New York
© Estate of Lisette Model, courtesy Baudoin Lebon/Keitelman

Lisette Model
American, 1945
Gelatin silver print
13 7/16 x 10 5/8 in.

HEAR Weegee Speak:

In Focus: Weegee

In Focus: Weegee
Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum

Judith Keller

Stalking the streets of New York City at night alongside police detectives and barflies, the tough-talking, fedora-wearing, cigar-smoking photographer who called himself "Weegee" was ready at a moment's notice with his Speed Graphic to respond to the police radio. From the mid-1930s to 1950s he captured hundreds of pictures of accidents, murders, arrests, fires, and natural disasters, producing works that are both empathetic and sensational. This volume in the In Focus series presents approximately fifty of the ninety-five Weegee prints in the Getty Museum's collection, surveying the photographer's probing vision of life in New York—from Harlem to Times Square, Greenwich Village, and the Bowery. Each of the photographs is accompanied by an introduction, a chronology, and commentary.

The book also includes an edited transcript of a colloquium on Weegee's life and work that incorporates the author's comments along with those of seven other participants: David Featherstone, Michael Hargraves, Weston Naef, Miles Orvell, Ira Richer, Colin Westerbeck, and Cynthia Young.

In Focus: Weegee was published to coincide with an exhibition of the photographer's work at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles that was on view from September 20, 2005, through January 22, 2006.

Judith Keller is curator of photographs at the Getty Museum.