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Past Exhibition

  • Weegee, My Studio—A Patrol Wagon, ca. 1938. © Weegee/International Center of Photography.
  • Weegee, [Weegee lying on bed in his studio, New York], 1941. © Weegee/International Center of Photography.
  • Weegee, [Weegee covering the morning police line-up at police headquarters, New York], ca. 1939.
    © Weegee/International Center of Photography.
  • Weegee, Behind Bars...For Being a Dope..., ca. 1936. © Weegee/International Center of Photography.
  • Weegee, With Bomb, 1940. © Weegee/International Center of Photography.

Weegee: Murder Is My Business

JANUARY 20–SEPTEMBER 2, 2012

Photo Detective:
Weegee and the
Art of Self-Invention

 

Read All About It!
Documentary Truth
Naked City

As a photographer, Weegee is perhaps the truest, most perceptive, most cynical, and yet most blatantly sentimental chronicler of urban life in twentieth­-century New York. While forging his trade as a tabloid press photographer in the 1930s—a role that was then regarded as the catfish of the journalistic profession—Weegee established a perspective on his city and its inhabitants that in many ways remains with us today. His now­-classic pictures show an insider's view of brutal crimes and accidents, engaging street kids and ethnic vendors, even tenement dwellers casually gazing out at the latest murder while reading the funny papers. Weegee's intimate voyeurism and shrugging acceptance of life's hard knocks constitute a unique approach to documentary photography, one divorced from the reformist zeal of the New Deal thirties yet tempered by the economic trauma of the Depression and an immigrant's experience of hardscrabble survival.

Like many foreigners, Weegee's life in America was a constant process of self-fashioning and self­-representation. Having arrived from Austria in 1909, at the age of eleven, Usher Fellig was promptly rechristened Arthur Fellig. He was raised in a Yiddish­-speaking household on the Lower East Side; his father was a peddler, hat salesman, and part-time religious teacher or rabbi. Young Arthur Fellig worked many jobs, including passport photographer, commercial photographer's assistant, and finally darkroom assistant, or "squeegee boy" (hence, the nickname). In 1935, at the age of thirty­-six, he boldly quit his darkroom job to become a freelance photographer, then a new and uncertain profession. He promptly became renowned for his nighttime shots of New York crime scenes, and he was profiled in various magazines under his adopted name, Weegee. A relentless self­promoter, Weegee was audacious enough to declare "Murder is my business"—and to display the check receipt to prove it!

Current Exhibitions

Current Exhibitions

On view through May 4: Capa in Color and What Is a Photograph?