Unknown Weegee


I’ll have to find a way to see this show when I’m in NYC in a few weeks. The International Center of Photography is holidng a retrospective exhibit of over 100 images by the official photographer of Murder, Inc – Arthur Felig, aka Weegee. The New York Times has a good review (registration required) of the show and the history of the archetypal spot-news photgrapher who often arrived at the scene of a homicide before the NYPD in the 40s and 50s, and whose work has been printed by a good friend of my brother, Sid Kaplan – one of the last masters of the black-and-white print in the world. Most of these images have never been seen before. The Times does, I believe, get one thing wrong. They suggest he took the name ‘Weegee’ to mimic the future-telling power of the Oujia board. I’d always heard that the name came from his time spent as a gopher in a photo lab early in his career, when a printer would yell for the ‘Squeegee!’ – and in would run Arthur to clear excess water from the just-washed prints – so his name became the onomatopoeiaic ‘Weegee’. Either way, it’s a great story of a unique character.

I love this particular image, as it’s very similar to a photo I took back in the early 90s in Savannah at the scene of a multiple homicide. In that image (which I’ll have to scan one day), a father is covering his son’s eyes as the bodies are removed from a car – that image took first place in spot news that year for the state, and is one of my favorite, though not so cheerful images from my photojournalism career. Like Weegee, photojournalists of today step from scenes of society’s highbrow to horrendous settings of pain and anguish in an instant – and the best ones capture something close to what Felig captured years ago.

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