WEEGEE FEVER! TABLOID PHOTOG GETS FOUR SHOWSJan. 24, 2012
Maybe it’s what International Center of Photography director Brian Wallis called “the CSI mentality,” because America’s obsession with the police procedural appears to have hit the art world. The ICP has just opened the largest of several new exhibitions on hard-boiled Depression-era crime photographer Arthur Fellig, commonly known as Weegee for his Ouija-like prescience for scandal.
“Weegee: Murder Is My Business,” at the ICP Jan. 20-Sept. 2, 2012, looks at the first decade of the tabloid king’s career. His fascination with gangland New York is traced via 100 photographs, newspaper clippings and short films, and includes scenes of a policeman pulling a body from the water, cops booking perps, a murdered mafia man stuffed in a trunk and what would become a famous shot of a crowd of terrified teenagers witnessing a shooting.
Weegee didn’t get his break until he was in his late 30s, after renting a Chinatown apartment across the street from police headquarters. Soon he became the first photographer to be given his own police scanner, and eventually began beating cops to the scene.
“Weegee was no reformist,” Wallis said, but even the most squeamish onlookers can appreciate his “on-the-ground, street-level view of the city” and dark sense of humor. The ICP aims to capture the larger noir narrative of Weegee’s life with light jazz drifting through the rooms and a replica of the photographer’s bedroom installed in one corner. There, a collage of newspaper clips hangs above the bed, next to a paycheck framed with a note: “two murders for $35.”
The ICP’s Weegee archive is the largest in the world and one of the museum’s most important collections. That’s why Wallis said he’s committed to sharing it with other curators, scholars and even dealers. For a show that opened earlier this month, Steven Kasher Gallery borrowed works from the museum to complete its salon-style spread of 125 photographs, “Wegee: Naked City,” Jan. 12-Feb. 25, 2012. Less focused on his crime photography, Kasher Gallery highlights street-side shots of everyday New Yorkers, self-portraits and several of Weegee’s now well-known scenes of Coney Island crowds.
The ICP also said it lent nearly all of the Weegee pictures in the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’ exhibition “Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles,” Nov. 13, 2011-Feb. 27, 2012. This show traces Weegee’s later-period shift from the seedy streets of New York to a different bastion of low-life -- Hollywood. Two years after he finished his landmark 1945 book of photojournalism, Naked City, he moved to Los Angeles to shoot celebrities, obsessed fans, skid-row prostitutes and to work on film sets.
And there’s yet another Weegee show in the works, according to Wallis. He didn’t reveal the details, but said it centers around Weegee’s time as a set photographer for Dr. Strangelove.