“When you go out on a story, you don’t go back for another sitting. You gotta get it.”
– Weegee (Arthur Fellig)
In 2012, a treasure trove of Weegee (1899–1968) pictures was found. Taken by the photographer between 1939 and 1946, they show life, death and drama in New York.
Weegee was born Ascher Fellig was born in what is now Ukraine in 1899. He and his family moved with his family to New York in 1909, where in a bid to better fit in the Jewish immigrant changed his name to Arthur. He found work as a photographer’s assistant and darkroom technician for several years before, before setting up s a freelancer close to police headquarters in lower Manhattan.
That proximity to police and the police radio in his car meant he was often the first photographer to arrive at scene of crime and automobile accidents. We’ve seen his lurid and raw photos of murder on the streets of New York, the revellers and derelicts at Sammy’s on The Bowery, and his clandestine pictures of love in the dark of a NYC cinema and people watching the unfolding horror a plane hit the Empire State building.
Why Weegee? Moma explains:
He was a photographer so attuned to the goings on of New York’s city streets that he seemed to intuit events before their unfolding—at times he seemed possessed, like a Ouija board.
Weegee embraced this origin story, attributing “Weegee” to a simplification of “Ouija” in signing and answering fan mail, often expanding his title to “Weegee the Famous.” But in fact, his name is rooted in his beginnings in the world of press photography. Weegee worked as a “squeegee boy” in the darkrooms of the New York Times, removing excess water from prints so they could be placed on a chrome-plated sheet, which was then inserted into heated dryers.2 As his technical prowess with the process developed, the mocking “squeegee boy” assignation morphed into a praising nickname, “Mr. Squeegee,” which ultimately wore down into “Weegee.”
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