Weegee: Murder Is My Business [International Center of Photography]
Weegee's tenure as a crime photographer was relatively brief -- only 11 years. He was uneducated, in almost every sense, but also smart. In this show, we see him see him gradually discovering that photography is art. One stroke of luck was his false name. As "Weegee" he was allowed a freedom he couldn't have enjoyed as Arthur H. Fellig. He became a superhero of crime photography -- a being with mysterious powers who arrived at the scene of each crime before the police.
How thin everyone was them! And how soulful were the faces of the young Italian criminals! New York is, at heart, a black-and-white city. It looks wrong in color.
I didn't realize that Weegee worked for PM, the legendary left-wing tabloid (1940-1948). This was the last time American socialism was both proletarian and fun.
Weegee's photos are balletic -- especially the corpses. Each person dies with a characteristic gesture. There is a baroque turning motion which fascinated Weegee. Photography is ultimately a form of dance. A great photo allows you to deduce the subject's movement just before the flashbulb went off, and just after.
Murder Is My Business becomes a meditation on death -- and its inevitable audience. Children rush to a murder scene with naked delight. Old women weep. Men mostly hang out of their windows and stare. All of us react to death as if it were a rare embarrassment, not our universal fate. Weegee was the greatest Buddhist photographer.
Also, Weegee himself appears in numerous photos. (It's unclear who took them.) Before Andy Warhol, he was both the subject and creator of artworks. Weegee's persona was wry, transgressive. He was photographed as a criminal, in a lineup, handcuffed, in prison. "I am a victim," his baleful countenance said. "The universal victim!"
Did Weegee think in Hungarian? In Yiddish? In no language at all?
Weegee would continue on to the West Coast, photographing celebrities, but what actress is as beautiful as the tenement dwellers of the Lower East Side?
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