Weegee: Murder Is My Business
For an intense decade between 1935 and 1946, Weegee (1899–1968) 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(1940–48), Weegee established a way of combining photographs and texts that was distinctly different from that promoted by other picture magazines, such as LIFE. Utilizing other distribution venues, Weegee also wrote extensively (including his autobiographical Naked City, published in 1945) and organized his own exhibitions at the Photo League. This exhibition draws upon the extensive Weegee Archive at ICP and includes environmental recreations of Weegee’s apartment and exhibitions. The exhibition is organized by ICP Chief Curator Brian Wallis.
Admittedly before I went to the ICP in New York, I was not familiar with Weegee’s work. However, I went downstairs to the main exhibition: the walls were painted a sort of tungsten orange which gave the atmosphere a sort of gritty feel as the black and white prints on the wall depicted crime scenes.
Reading about Weegee, I found that he was a little bizarre: living opposite NYPD and taking an interest in murder and accidents. It is clear through the work selected that he took his photography very seriously: many of the cases he photographed were presented in groups of three of four, shot from different angles and even different times of day. This gave me a better understanding of how the Police then dealt with murder: not on quite the same clinical scale as today.
I was not permitted to take photographs but I found one set of photographs particularly interesting: there was a car accident, with the victim in the foreground, but the focus is more centred on the crowd of people watching. They were not looking sad or remorseful, but happy, like it was some sort of entertainment; also, many of the spectators were looking straight into Weegee’s camera. It is a grim moment that Weegee captures, but is that of how we as a race are sort of fascinated by horror even though we are innocent to causing it.
If I am honest, although I can comfortably say that Weegee has been a huge inspiration to photographers from reading articles online, at the same time, there is something really distressing about his photographs that I didn’t wish to stay for a huge amount of time examining them. They, to me, are very much documentation of actual ‘art’. Nevertheless, the few photographs that I could stomach to look into more, I could see how Weegee was trying to communicate this message of fascination of horror, not only for the fact that he photographed it himself (obviously interested) but also photographed the general public’s reactions in the streets of New York during the 30’s.