Ramblings & ephemera

Weegee at work

From Holland Cotter’s “‘Unknown Weegee,’ on Photographer Who Made the Night Noir” (The New York Times: 9 June 2006):

A freelancer by temperament, he had long-term gigs with The Daily News, The Daily Mirror and the left-leaning daily PM. His beat was the inner city, and everything was raw material: the good and the bad, but mostly the bad. He liked nights because he had the photographic turf to himself but also because the best bad things happen at night, under the cover of darkness. Vandals make their mark; hit men practice their trade; people get crazy.

Like a boy scout, he was always prepared. He prowled the streets in a car equipped with a police radio, a typewriter, developing equipment, a supply of cigars and a change of underwear. He was a one-man photo factory: he drove to a crime site; took pictures; developed the film, using the trunk as a darkroom; and delivered the prints.

He often finished a job before the cops had cleared the scene, in some cases before they even arrived. About certain things he was clairvoyant. (Weegee = Ouija, as in board. Get it?) He caught catastrophes in the making and filmed them unfolding. An opportunist? A sensationalist? A voyeur? You could call him all that. He wouldn’t mind. “Just get the name right. Weegee the Famous.”

He was in the right place at the right time. New York from the Depression through World War II was a rude, crude town. No heat in winter, way too much in the summer. Immigrants poured in; there was barely enough room to hold them. Native-born workers felt the competition for jobs and space, resented it. The melting pot was on a constant boil.

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