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Iconic Photographers - Weegee.
By Editor Peter Davidson
Edited and published by Yvette Depaepe, the 11th of May 2023

                                                                                                                 Weegee 'at work'



This weeks iconic photographer is Weegee. I chose Weegee not because he is regarded as the best street photographer, but simply because he was the first photographer of the street who's images made me stop and stare in awe. What a guy. Even built his own darkroom in the trunk of his car. His extraordinary exploits also inspired the 2014 film, 'Nightcrawler'.

Personally, I enjoy the frustratingly difficult but satisfying pursuit of finding unexpected images out on the streets. It's that 'now' moment. If you aren't out there, looking at life, you're not capturing it. And to be honest, for 99% of the time, you're not capturing anything. A bit like fishing I suppose, but with a camera and a story to tell as a result rather than a dead fish. Still, I tell myself the walk is good for my heart. A couple of days ago I was walking around trying to find something to tell the story of the recent coronation, and found zip, nothing. So I gave up and went for a drink and sitting there next to me, I found the shot I wanted. It all came together, including the small doll on the table looking up raising its hand. A detail that escaped me when I took the shot. (Not using a plate film camera, but a phone, how times have changed) That's the joy of 'street' - you never know what serendipity can bring you. I'll share the shot here with you, with apologies to the great Weegee. 

by Peter Davidson

Street photography has long been celebrated for its raw, unfiltered portrayal of urban life, capturing the essence of the streets and its inhabitants. Among the notable figures in this genre, Weegee stands out from most as particularly controversial and influential photographer. Known for his gritty and often sensationalistic images, Weegee pushed the boundaries of ethical considerations and challenged traditional notions of art. Let's delve into the controversies surrounding Weegee's work and examine his lasting impact on the world of street photography.


                                                                             A mother and daughter turn towards their apartment building which is burning

The Man Behind the Lens: Weegee, born Arthur Fellig in 1899 in Austria-Hungary (now Ukraine), immigrated to the United States in 1909.
Settling in New York City, he worked odd jobs before finding his true calling as a street photographer. Armed with his trusty Speed Graphic camera, (speed being a relative term here!) a police radio, and a knack for being at the right place at the right time, Weegee quickly gained notoriety for his uncanny ability to capture crime scenes and gritty urban life.




Controversies in Weegee's Art: Weegee's unflinching documentation of crime scenes and their aftermath is perhaps the most controversial aspect of his work. He earned a reputation as a voyeur of tragedy, always present to capture the most gruesome moments. His photographs depicted bloodstained streets, victims' grieving families, and the seedy underbelly of New York City. Critics argued that Weegee's work sensationalized violence and exploited human suffering for the sake of art.

Furthermore, Weegee's provocative approach to street photography blurred the lines between photojournalism and artistic expression.
While he certainly captured moments of truth, his penchant for staging scenes and manipulating lighting challenged the authenticity of his work. Weegee's images often possessed a cinematic quality, leading some to question the objectivity and integrity of his photographs.



Despite these controversies, it is essential to understand the context in which Weegee operated. His work emerged during a time when tabloid journalism and crime photography were gaining popularity. Weegee embraced this sensationalism, believing that photographs needed to be bold and attention-grabbing to communicate their message effectively. He recognized the power of the medium to shock, engage, and provoke thought, and he wielded it unapologetically.

Legacy and Influence: Weegee's legacy lies not only in his controversial approach to street photography but also in his impact on the genre itself.
His work resonates with audiences even today, capturing the collective imagination with its stark realism. By embracing the chaos and contradictions of city life, Weegee revealed the social inequalities, human suffering, and fleeting moments of joy that characterize urban existence.



Moreover, Weegee's influence extended beyond his own era. His daring, unfiltered style paved the way for subsequent generations of street photographers, who sought to capture the essence of everyday life with an unflinching gaze. His unique perspective and technical innovations continue to inspire photographers today, reminding them of the power of street photography as a tool for social commentary and storytelling.

Conclusion: Weegee remains a controversial figure in the world of street photography, challenging conventional notions of ethics and artistic expression. His unapologetic approach to capturing urban life, often tinged with violence and tragedy, raised important questions about the responsibilities and limits of the photographer. Regardless of the controversies surrounding his work, Weegee's undeniable talent and enduring impact on the genre cement his status as a pioneering street photographer. His images continue to fascinate and provoke, reminding us of the complex nature of the human experience within the urban landscape.

[If you've managed to read to the end of this and my photographic scribblings haven't entirely put your teeth on edge, there's more on my blog 'Sliding Shutters' ]




Great article! Really enjoyed it!
Excellent information about the street photography of Weegee! Learning! Appreciate your work!
Cheers Wanghan.
Peter, Thank you for another great article! Your photo of the family saluting the Coronation is excellent in my opinion. Weegee's 'The Critic' (staged or not) is the perfect example of an important and meaningful photograph. It captures an aspect of humanity clearly, simply, and powerfully. It helps to explain us to ourselves. I think there's a bit of critic in all of us.
He was indeed a bit of a rogue. But he got the pictures the newspapers wanted. The 'Critic' shot is an interesting one, and the story of how it was concocted, is worth looking up.
Thanks Eduardo.