Surely the qintessential New York success story is someone from a humble background with a talent, who against all odds carves out a huge career by going where no one has gone before. Arthur Fellig usually called ‘Weegee’ fits this narrative perfectly.
He was an unlikely innovator, a Ukranian NYC immigrant at age 10, who developed some photographic skills in a haphazard and completely untrained way and then chanced his all by becoming a freelance photographer when there just weren’t any of those around. Most newspapers employed their own photographers who they sent out to take pics once they realised some kind of story was happening. What Weegee decided to do was to get there first and scoop them, handing pics to the newspapers before they even had their photographers on the streets.
He chose to do this at an interesting time in NYC’s history. The 1930′s and 40′s were the prime period for organized crime in the City – a time when the body count was high as was prostition, gambling and crime generally. Weegee plunged right in, making sure he got to crime scenes first by listenining into Police broadcasts, yes he pioneered that too, and shooting pics of the bodies, the broken shop windows, the people being rounded up and put into police vans. He then quickly developed his pics in a small dark room he kept in the back of his car, another innovation, and got them to the newspapers straight away who were of course only too willing to buy such high quality pics.
Weegee did have a good nose for what was sensational and would sell but in addition the quality of his black and white photography was amazing, the composition and the skill he displayed in using photographic equipment was extraordinary. He also had a very humanistic feel for people of New York and the patterns of street life. He pioneered the whole genre of high quality realistic photography, which others then went on to develop but he was the first and the best.
This nuggetty little man is today recognized as the genius he was, one of the finest photographers in the world, let alone in NYC whose streets b ecame his studio