“Sure. I’d like to live regular. Go home to a good looking wife, a hot dinner, and a husky kid. But I guess I got film in my blood. I love this racket. It’s exciting. It’s dangerous. It’s funny. It’s tough. It’s heartbreaking,” the great photographer Weegee said. Born Usher Fellig in 1899, what is now the Ukraine, he was renamed Arthuer when the family immigrated to New York in 1909. He first took up photography at age 14. By 1935, he quit his day job—and how blessed we are for it.
As Weegee told Bomb Magazine in 1987, “In my particular case I didn't wait 'til somebody gave me a job or something, I went and created a job for myself—freelance photographer. And what I did, anybody else can do. What I did simply was this: I went down to Manhattan Police Headquarters and for two years I worked without a police card or any kind of credentials. When a story came over a police teletype, I would go to it. The idea was I sold the pictures to the newspapers. And naturally, I picked a story that meant something.”
Weegee was the best kind of journalist: he was a man of the people, for the people, and he did it right. He understood the gritty glamour of his milieu and the power of the photograph to tell the story instantaneously. He bore witness with the eye of an artist and the speed of a professional, always he first on the scene. “News photography teaches you to think fast,” Weegee observed, and at a time when newsprint was the main mode of visual communication, he dominated.
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Photo: Weegee, [Shop window of tattoo parlor, New York], ca. 1943.