Weegeee (1899-1968)


Rarely have photographers’ careers been as celebrated and honoured as Weegee’s. Equally illustrious and renowned as his pictures was Weegee‘s persona, which heralded him as the world’s most famous photographer. Ascher (anglicised to Usher) Fellig was born in 1899 in Złoczów near Lemberg, now part of the Ukraine. In 1906, his family immigrated to New York City, where he changed his name to Arthur. Growing up in New York proved to be crucial for Weegee as this is where he first fell in love with photography. For an intense decade between 1935 and 1946, Weegee was one of the most relentlessly inventive figures in American photography. His graphically dramatic and often lurid photographs of New York crimes and news events set the standard for what has become known as tabloid journalism. Freelancing for a variety of New York newspapers and photo agencies, and later working as a stringer for the short-lived liberal daily PM, Weegee established a way of combining photographs and texts that was distinctly different from that promoted by other picture magazines, such as LIFE. Utilising other distribution venues, Weegee also wrote extensively (including his autobiographical Naked City, published in 1945) and organised his own exhibitions at the Photo League.  Weegee dominated the New York landscape. In his own mind, he was the only individual, a cigar wielding visual narrator, who could tell the story of this restless city. His inquiring eye found the sensational, the scandalous, the melodramatic, the newsworthy sides ofNew York life. From the hard-boiled detective to the meddlesome bandit, the late night boozehounds to the dancing hepcats, the four-alarm blaze or the mangled remains of a car crash: Weegee covered it all. Weegee's photographic oeuvre is unusual in that it was successful in the popular media and respected by the fine-art community during his lifetime. His photographs' ability to navigate between these two realms comes from the strong emotional connection forged between the viewer and the characters in his photographs, as well as from Weegee's skill at choosing the most telling and significant moments of the events he photographed.