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Weegee

Weegee

Weegee (Arthur Fellig), 1899-1968, American photojournalist, b. Zolochiv, Ukraine (then in Austria-Hungary) as Asher Fellig. His family immigrated (1910) to New York City, where he soon quit school, held various photography-related jobs, and worked for Acme Newspictures (later part of United Press International) until 1935. For the next decade he freelanced, selling photos mainly to New York tabloids. About 1938 he adopted the name Weegee, supposedly a phonetic version of the name of the Ouija board, in tribute to his seemingly clairvoyant ability to arrive where and when news was breaking (he monitored the police radio). With his big flash-popping Speed Graphic, the cigar-chomping photographer became a fixture of the New York night. Drawn to the grotesque and illicit, he created contrasty black-and-white shots of grisly crime scenes, fires, and car crashes and of New Yorkers at pleasure spots and grim scenes. He became known to a larger audience with his 1945 bestseller Naked City. Weegee later worked as a Hollywood movie consultant (1947-52), experimented with portraits shot with distorting lenses, and made three short films (1948, c.1950, and 1965).

See his autobiography, Weegee on Weegee (1961); his other collections, Weegee's People (1946, repr. 1985), Naked Hollywood (1953, repr. 1975), Weegee's New York Photographs, 1935-1960 (1984, repr. 2000), and The Village (1989); J. Coplans, ed., Weegee: Naked New York (1997); A. Talmey, ed., Weegee (1997); M. Barth et al., Weegee's World (1997), and K. W. Purcell, Weegee: Arthur Fellig (2004).

Weegee was the pseudonym of Arthur Fellig (June 12 1899December 26 1968), an American photographer and photojournalist, known for his stark black and white street photography.

Early life

Weegee was born Usher Fellig in Złoczew, near Lemberg, Austrian-Galicia (later known as Złoczów, Poland, and now Zolochiv, Ukraine). His name was changed to Arthur when he came with his family to live in New York in 1909, fleeing Antisemitism.

Photography career

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 Newspictures 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, though some, like the juxtaposition of society grandes dames in ermines and tiaras and a glowering street woman at the Metropolitan Opera (The Critic, 1943), turned out to have been staged.

In 1938, Fellig was the only New York newspaper reporter with a permit to have a portable police-band shortwave radio. He maintained a complete darkroom in the trunk of his car, 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 notable photographs were taken with very basic press photographer equipment and methods of the era, a 4x5 Speed Graphic camera preset at f/16, @ 1/200 of a second with flashbulbs and a set focus distance of ten feet. He had no formal photographic training but 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 organized by Edward Steichen, and he lectured at the New School for Social Research. He also undertook advertising and editorial assignments for Life and Vogue magazines, among others.

His acclaimed first book collection of photographs, Naked City (1945), became the inspiration for a major 1948 movie The Naked City, and later the title of a naturalistic television police drama series and a band led by the New York experimental musician John Zorn.

Weegee also made short 16mm films beginning in 1941 and worked with and in Hollywood from 1946 to the early 1960s, both as an actor and a consultant. He was an uncredited special effects consultant and credited still photographer for Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. His accent was one of the influences for the accent of the title character in the film, played by Peter Sellers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Weegee experimented with panoramic photographs, photo distortions and photography through prisms. He made a famous photograph of Marilyn Monroe in which her face is grotesquely distorted yet still recognizable. For the 1950 movie The Yellow Cab Man, Weegee contributed a sequence in which automobile traffic is wildly distorted; he is credited for this as "Weegee" in the film's opening credits. He also traveled widely in Europe in the 1960s, where he photographed nude subjects.

Further reading

  • Weegee by Weegee (1961, autobiography)
  • Miles Barth, Weegee's World
  • Kerry William Purcell, Weegee (Phaidon, 2004)

References

External links

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