The new book Flash, believe it or not, published just three days ago, is the first real biography of Usher Fellig, AKA Arthur Fellig, AKA Weegee the Famous. David Simon, the creator of HBO's The Wire, says, "we know the photographs, and now, with this biography from Christopher Bonanos, we can finally know something of the legendary, improbable, and much-caricatured man." The timing is perfect, seems to me. Weegee's meaning and place in history is still very much in flux, as he recedes in time and as photojournalism continues to change irreversibly.
I collected, and read, a handful of photographer biographies in the few years surrounding 2004 or so, but I quickly decided my reading needed to range more broadly. But I've been waiting for this one. Weegee (he got his name from the squeegee used to get the water off freshly washed prints in the Times newsroom, not from a ouija board) has receded much further back into history since I got into photography in 1982. His meaning seems to be changing all the time. But he's such a vivid, outsized character, and his best-known pictures so lurid and stark, that he remains sui generis in American photography and a photographer you can't get around in a survey of history. Gotta confront him head on, light him up directly and look at him without blinking.
If you don't want to read a whole biography, there's an "I read the review instead" article at the New Yorker, by Thomas Mallon.
Author Christopher Bonanos is City Editor at New York magazine, where he covers arts, culture, and urban affairs.
(Thanks to Richard Newman)
Original contents copyright 2018 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
hugh crawford: "Christopher Bonanos also wrote a very fine book on the history of Polaroid. Instant: The Story of Polaroid." [That link is for the Kindle e-book and the hardcover; here's the paperback. And the hardcover. No clue why there are separate listings. —Ed.]