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Weegee

Published in 2004; Kerry William Purcell; Phaidon Press (Publisher);

The following review first appeared in Issue 2, 2005 of The Picture Professional, the quarterly magazine of the American Society of Picture Professionals, www.aspp.com. ASPP is a community of image experts committed to sharing our experience and knowledge throughout the industry.

Review by Brian Seed / ASPP:

Weegee-Arthur H. Fellig, 1899-1968-was the prototypical, cigar-chomping, Speed Graphic-wielding press photographer. He followed the old adage, "f8 and be there," often working through the night using an officially sanctioned radio to hear police messages, and for a time working out of a Manhattan police station. He once calculated he had photographed more than 500 murders and framed a check from Time with the accountant's line "for two murders." But his pointed and sometimes witty photography, while showing the harshness of the 1930s and 1940s, also showed a more relaxed, communal way of life, such as children playing on a New York Street and an immense Coney Island crowd of cavorting week-end vacationers.

Camera and lens development and improvements in film speed have determined the kinds of photos taken in any era. Victorian photographers often supported their sitters' heads with a special brace for long exposures. These images can have a weight to them not always achieved by the more flighty, quick-shooting 35mm camera. It gets lots of quirky images, but is there a single image that conveys the essence of the person portrayed? The advent of the 4x5 Speed Graphic camera in the early 1930s, with its open frame finder-often used with a peanut, #5 or a #22 flashbulb- allowed quick shooting under any light circumstances, making it the perfect press camera. As an additional advantage, a piece of 4x5 film could be processed fast to meet a paper's deadline. Weegee is said to have sometimes processed film in his car. Try doing that with a roll film. I have developed film in a variety of hotel closets, and on one occasion in the family kitchen cupboard with a girlfriend. For best results none of this is recommended.

One writer has said that Weegee was the first photojournalist, but in fact others came before him. For example, Dr. Erich Saloman, using the small Ermanox camera at the end of the 1920s; Alfred Eisenstaedt with the newly created Leica camera, first available in the spring of 1925; and, Henri Cartier-Bresson, another Leica user, in 1932. Weegee began his press photography a little later. First, he did street photography of children on the back of his donkey, but the donkey ate all of the profits.

Weegee is likely to have gotten his name either from an early job at a photo agency, where he squeegeed prints and was called "Mr. Squeegee," or from the Ouija board, because of his ability to foretell the future: i.e., be on the scene of a crime before anyone else. He said his elbow always itched when there was a news event to be covered.

This book is cleanly designed, the photos are printed well, it has an excellent introduction, and the images have good captions. It will be a fine and appropriate purchase for most potential buyers. However, Miles Barth's book "Weegee's World," published in 1997, with 267 duotone images printed on heavy 12x9-1/2 inch stock and with extensive original research, is recommended for the very serious reader or collector of photography books. This definitive book is available on Amazon "in very good condition" for $13. Barth was the Curator of Collections at I.C.P. and as such had access to its 13,000 Weegee print collection as well as to original and copy negatives.

Miles Barth says, "In the history of photography few other photographers have created so distinctive and complex a personality as that of Arthur Fellig." The circular rubber stamp Weegee designed for his prints said: "Credit: Weegee the Famous." Yes, Weegee, you made it!


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