Weegee made his mark as a documentary photographer. Between 1935 and 1945, he established a unique documentary style.
Weegee’s subjects were New York and its inhabitants. Babies, animals, nightclub dancers, and criminals were all featured in front of Weegee’s camera. He spent at least twenty years documenting the city, driving around for hours, shooting stark and dramatic photographs. He captured New Yorkers whilst they lost themselves at concerts, parades, in bars and cafes in diverse parts of the city: Harlem, Chinatown, the Bowery, and Times Square.
Many of Weegee’s photographs depict a struggle to survive. Addressing racial tensions, homelessness, war-time rations and Hollywood notions of glamour, Weegee revealed a roughed-up New York coming out of the 1930s Depression and into a post war society. Without sentimentalizing, Weegee turned directly to his subjects and recorded the moment.
Weegee’s photographs reveal a photographer able to cultivate his own style. He combined hard flash, with subjective viewpoints, often engaging with his subjects or turning away from the action to witness the viewers’ response.
Born Arthur Fellig in 1899, Weegee arrived in New York from present day Ukraine in 1910. There, he began a series of jobs, starting as a children’s photographer and later working with The New York Times and Acme Newspictures in the darkroom. In the summer of 1941, Weegee held two back-to-back exhibitions at the Photo League’s headquarters. These garnered him substantial visibility and led to the acquisition of his work by the Museum of Modern Art.
Find out more about Weegee by reading his autobiography, Weegee by Weegee (1961), or by acquiring the catalog of Unknown Weegee an exhibition held in 2006 at the ICP in New York.
More info about Weegee online can be found at International Center of Photography