Don’t miss your last chance to catch this brilliant, travelling Weegee photography exhibition from the International Center of Photography in New York. It’s on show at FoMu (FotoMuseum Antwerp) in Belgium until 27 January 2013.
When you walk past the crime-scene tape that adorns the doors of the museum and up to the second floor exhibit, you’re treated to a rare collection, transporting you into “Weegee’s World.” With more than 100 authentic prints, original newspaper clippings, touch screen displays and videos, you can be a time-travelling voyeur into the gritty life of early-mid-century America.
Weegee (Arthur Fellig 1899-1968) was a powerhouse of early, urban photojournalism. After emigrating to the USA from Austria at the age of ten, he later re-invented himself as “Weegee the Famous” and made that moniker stick as a crime scene photographer and documentarian like no other.As the US was emerging from the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Hollywood studios were pumping out romanticized versions of the gangster life. But Weegee carved his own place in the annals of photography by showing the true images of life on the streets of New York. His images could be labeled as the beginning of tabloid journalism, but these pictures wouldn’t be seen in your Weekly World News or Daily Mail. Most of his images wouldn’t pass todays “Cheerios Test.” (Will readers want to see this while eating their morning meal?)
In the beginning he worked mostly at night with a powerful flash. Weegee stalked his prey in the back-alleys and station houses of the real Gotham City. He wasn’t an artist refining his delicate craft. Avedon would not approve of his methods, which more closely resembled those of the hit-men he photographed than those of other photographers of his day. The perp would be pulled out of a dank bar after midnight and shoved into a Black Maria giving Weegee only seconds to focus, frame, calculate and pull the trigger. The flash that followed wasn’t from the muzzle of a gun, but that of the automatic flash-bulb on his 4×5 Speed Graphic camera (on display at the exhibit.)
Often sleeping in his clothes by day, he would wake up in the evening and scan the police and fire radio channels, competing to arrive on the scene before the cops. When the gang from Murder Inc. wasn’t playing shoot-em-up. Weegee redirected that same, unflinching lens to the everyday inhabitants of his adopted city. Whether it was tenement children escaping the heat in the spray of a fire hydrant, or tiara-topped “society” ladies on their way to the theater, his flashbulbs were a great equalizer. Compressing every aspect of “life as it is lived” into a flat, black and white frame and presenting it as evidence. It grabs you by the collar and shouts: “Hey! This is real life! Pay attention!” And we do.You can find a more in-depth biography of the man himself here at the Masters of Photography Blog.
IF YOU GO: FoMu Antwerp is open Tuesday to Sunday open from 10 to 18 h. Closed on Mondays.
About my photographs: The color images were shot with an iPhone 4. My B&W Polaroid photographs of the exhibition were made on a customized vintage Polaroid 110 Pathfinder camera produced while Weegee was still making pictures. Here’s what it looks like:
All text and photos © Lance Aram Rothstein for Labeauratoire unless otherwise noted.