“My name is Weegee. I’m the world’s greatest photographer…”
Arthur Fellig (Weegee) is a legendary American photojournalist and master of documentary photography, famous for his photo reportages on the nightlife of New York City in the time of the Great Depression.
Weegee was born in 1899 in Zloczow, Austria-Hungary (now Lviv Oblast), and in 1910 he and his family emigrated to the United States. He learned photography in practice, working from the age of 14 as an assistant for the commercial photographer in Lower Manhattan.
After working for more than 10 years at one of New York City’s largest news agencies, ACME Newspictures, in 1935 Weegee focused on his own career, launching a collaboration with the Manhattan Police Department, and then selling his photo shoots to major magazines and newspapers.
For his quick reactions and extraordinary ability to get to the crime scene before other reporters, and sometimes ahead of the police, he got the name “Weegee,” after the Ouija board used for mystic fortune-telling. Some people considered his luck to be magic, whereas in fact in 1938 Weegee became the first civilian to be authorized to operate a short-wave police band radio. Working with the police, he tapped exchanges and promptly arrived on the scene, getting the best footage for the “hot” news.
“To me, pictures are like blintzes – ya gotta get ‘em while they’re hot.” – Weegee
His first solo exhibition, ‘Weegee: Murder is My Business’, was held in 1941. But the real fame came to him in 1945 with the publication of his book ‘Naked City’, after which he was called nothing but ‘Weegee the Famous’. He used to put that name on the back of every photograph he sold. The book’s release secured Weegee a permanent position as a correspondent of Vogue magazine and attracted the interest of Hollywood, inspiring Jules Dassin to direct a new eponymous film.
After moving to Hollywood in 1947, Weegee started working on a series of “distorted” portraits of celebrities and political figures, where he used a variety of optical methods, experimenting with the lens of the photo-camera. The result was the acclaimed book ‘Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles’ (1953). During his 5 years in Hollywood, Weegee collaborated with Stanley Kubrick and other famous directors, directed his own films, and published new books.
“When you find yourself beginning to feel a bond between yourself and the people you photograph, when you laugh and cry with their laughter and tears, you will know you are on the right track.” – Weegee the Famous
The unique collection of more than 200 works, created during his collaboration with the Manhattan Police Department (1935–1947), is now on view and has been previously exhibited in numerous museums worldwide:
Rupertinum (Salzburg, Austria)
The Museum of Modern Art (Oxford, UK)
Sk Stiftung Kultur (Cologne, Germany)
The Chrysler Museum of Art (Norfolk, VA, USA)
The Philadelphia Art Alliance (Philadelphia, PA, USA)
The Israel Museum (Jerusalem, Israel)
Magasin 3 Konsthall (Stockholm, Sweden)
Ubu Gallery (New York, NY, USA)