Weegee's World: Life, Death and the Human Drama

Weegee (Arthur Fellig), Their First Murder (Detail), 1941, gelatin silver print, Weegee (Arthur Fellig) ©1994, Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images

April 5 - Through June 2, 2002

Feel the grit and raw energy of New York City in the 1930s and '40s. This exhibition of about 100 photographs offers a glimpse into the world of Weegee, a prolific and pioneering photojournalist. Weegee, an Austrian immigrant born Arthur Fellig, built his career on the night beat, chasing breaking news, like murder, crime and grisly accidents. He also captured the city's tender side—lovers embracing in a dark cinema, children dancing in a fire hydrant's spray. After a stint with Acme News Service, Weegee struck out on his own, selling his photographs to the New York tabloids. His 1938 Chevy served as a makeshift office, and he cruised the dark streets tuned into a short-wave police radio, ready with his signature Speed Graphic camera to be first on the scene. Weegee developed a persona that helped him succeed: hard-boiled, courageous, even ruthless, with amazing stamina for confronting tragedy. He was usually dressed in a rumpled suit and tie, with a fedora and overcoat, its pockets stuffed with notebooks and flashbulbs. A large cigar hung permanently from his mouth, and his chin often sported a day's growth of stubble.

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Later in life, the lure of Hollywood hooked Weegee, and he left New York in 1948 to pursue a career in film. Weegee worked on the Naked City, the film's title (and subsequent TV show) borrowed from a book of his photos, and he was consultant and inspiration for the classic film Dr. Strangelove. When he returned to his hometown four years later, he devoted himself to experimenting with photo manipulations and satirical celebrity caricatures.
The composite of Weegee's work as a New York photojournalist demonstrates his passion for the city and compassion for its people. With his photos, he exposed inequities and sharp contrasts in society: between victims and criminals, rich and poor, living and dead. They rouse a sense of rubbernecking, and we must look. Weegee's World: Life, Death and the Human Drama was organized by the International Center of Photography in New York. Support provided by the Hall and Kate Peterson Fund for Photography.
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