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Friday, 08 June 2018

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First biography? And what about his autobiography?


[Have you ever seen it? Not a serious or scholarly objective biography in any sense. --Mike]

Looks like a terrific summer trash read!

I admit to having long been a bit of a closet Weegee fan, for many of the same reasons the National Enquirer used to be sold near supermarket checkout lines. I think I have about four or five books on Weegee, at least two of which claim to feature a "real" biography. And none of which match-up completely.

But personally I don't give a damn about Arthur Fellig's life story; I admire his photos. I admire his energy. I admire what it took to do what he did back in his day, much like admiring the great pyramids at Giza.

Just last year I grabbed a copy of Daniel Blau's Extra! Weegee. It's distinction, at least among my other Weegee volumes, is that it cuts straight to the chase. Following a bit of blah-blah the book is crammed wall-to-wall with Weegee's work. But Blau shows not only the images but also the press caption texts that were pasted on the verso of each image. For example, here's a lovely shot:

And that caption blurb reads:

TRAGEDY AMID CELEBRATION
New York -- On Broome and Mulberry Sts.,
Still gaily decorated with flags and banners in celebration of the victory over Japan, spectators gather around as detectives fingerprint the body of a man found shot in the head at 3:30 A.M. today (Aug 19th). The victim was identified by a draft card in his pocket as Paul George LoPresto, 35. The killing, which took place only 200 ft. from police headquarters, was the second in this vicinity in three days.
CREDIT (ACME) 8/19/45 (MD)"

Now that's a biography!

Did I ever see it? Not the original book, but there is a Kindle version. You’re right, it is even tough to finish the first page, but does that mean it is not autobiographic?
What is interesting about it that you clearly sense the character so well known from his photographs. Works great through the lens, but is hard to bare by the pen. Only few have a double talent like Félix Nadar or Sally Mann.

Can’t give you a review yet, but my copy of “Weegee, Serial Photographer” is in the mail. A graphic arts/comic version from a Belgian artists Max de Radiguès and Wauter Mannaert. The stuff that’s out there!

"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"

The story I'd always heard was that it did indeed relate to the ouija board and arose from his seeming ability to arrive ahead of the cops at the scene of a crime. Guess not?

I'll never forget the photo of the drowned swimmer- his girlfriend smiling ear to ear for the camera...

"...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)"

I'm virtually certain that's incorrect. But see what I meant (earlier comment) about how bio bits about this guy are virtually all bull---t? All that matters about the guy are his photos!

It seems that Weegee was as good a storyteller as his contemporary Robert Capa. So take the stories with a grain of salt but believe the pictures. f/8 and be there!

Off the cuff: this is the guy who came up with “f8 and be there” in answer to questions about his famed ability to get to crime scenes - as Tom pointed out in an earlier post - so reliably and fast that he sometimes beat the cops and sometimes photographed the crime in progress.

He was reputed to be the first civilian to have a police band radio. But more important, his renowned signature style put the viewer in the middle of the action. That’s were the “f8” came in. He was refering to his camera’s aperture sweet spot, which gave both good depth of field and adequate shutter speed, turning his camera into a 4x5 point and shoot. Just the thing when surrounded by a scrum of cops and robbers.

Knowing something about what you like to shoot and knowing how to equip and deploy accordingly, go a long way to answering the matter of “ the best camera is the one you have with you.”

Way I recall it, the Life Library of Photography (which I read in the early 1970's, a little before I got my first SLR in 1976) entry on Weegee mentioned his name as Arthur Wellig. In his early years as a lowly darkroom boy in the Times newsroom, it seems he responded to the call for the squeegee, which was apparently pronounced something like 'weegee' which, in time, he adopted as his nom de guerre.
The literary parallel is, of course, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who adopted the nom de plume of Mark Twain from the riverboat pilot's oft heard cry of 'mark twain', which indicated two notches on the plumb bob and string combo used to measure the depth of the water, which mark was equivalent to two fathoms (12 feet) -- apparently about the minimum draft needed by a Mississippi riverboat.
Weegee had a radio in his car tuned to the police waveband and responded to calls to attend to criminal activity and, using a Speed Graphic with direct flash(bulbs), took pictures which he developed and printed in the portable darkroom he had in the boot of his car. This gave him the vital edge he needed to scoop other news photographers .
Of course, Weegee was much more than a mere crime photographer, and I'm sure the social commentary in some of his street photos puts the established greats to shame. He was simply unique.
~ Subroto Mukerji, New Delhi, India

In the photo on the book cover, do please note the 90 degree angle of Weegee's flash gun. Looks like he was using bounced flash !

Reminds me that I need to rewatch " The Public Eye", a B+W noir-style movie from the early 1990's starring Joe Pesci as a WeeGee-like photographer. I thought that it was a great job of casting.

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