“Dusting Off a Police Trove of Photographs to Rival Weegee’s”
by Michael Wilson
“The picture, of a coat and a hat, was one of seven taken that afternoon at the Latin Lounge. But why?
Hours earlier, someone had fatally stabbed a man identified as Edward Curbreia, 32, in the bar, on Broadway at West 100th Street in Manhattan. It was Feb. 1, 1959, and two detectives arrived at the scene — in car 1514, according to a meticulously kept logbook — with their big, tripod-mounted camera. They took a picture of the busy block (a sign in a neighboring grocer’s window advertised a special on smoked tongue: 39 cents a pound) and others inside the bar and its bloodstained bathroom. The detectives carried various flashbulbs that would have popped as they lit up the dark room.
The coat check closet must have caught someone’s eye. Inside were a single hat and coat, each one with a chip, No. 38.
The detectives set up the camera. Pop.
The Latin Lounge photos were among thousands taken from 1914 to 1975 by officers assigned to the New York Police Department’s photo units. Later, when the cases were closed, the photos were boxed up and stored in various places, including, most recently, a basement room at 1 Police Plaza.
Many of the photos will soon be available for public viewing for the first time. On Monday, the National Endowment for the Humanities will announce a $125,000 grant it has awarded to the Department of Records and Information Services for the digitization of 30,000 of the pictures. The photographs will be scanned starting in July and will be available for online viewing sometime after that.
The images recall those taken by the famous tabloid photographer Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, and at some crime scenes, the police photographer who took them and the night-crawling newsman may have been standing just a few feet apart.
[Hello, cake box murder, etc.]
“The police photographers more than held their own,” said Michael Lorenzini, deputy director of the Municipal Archives. “These guys are well-trained photographers.”
Mr. Lorenzini recalled the day he entered the crowded basement storage room — “the smell,” he said. When old film begins to break down, it smells like vinegar. Archivists working with the collection have labeled and stored most of the negatives in a freezer at a facility in Brooklyn to stop further decay…
But the collection also lays bare the workaday jobs that officers were called upon to investigate, like a stickup in a pool hall on Broome Street in 1942: A detective photographed the inside of the bare-bones hall, the cue sticks lying where they had been abandoned on a pool table, and, outside, the body of the dapper robber himself, who had been shot and killed by a patrolman…
[Sounds like a Weegee photo.]
“The film size was 8 inches by 10 inches,” he said Friday in a telephone interview from his Long Island home. “The camera was set up on a tripod. It was a bellows-type camera — you know, the bellows on an accordion?”…
[We recommend The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger: https://www.eff.org/privacybadger.]
NY Times: “Dusting Off a Police Trove of Photographs to Rival Weegee’s”
When we have more time, we will compare and contrast the NYPD’s photos and Weegee’s…
“Weegee makes friends readily. On a Chinatown assignment, he got this New Year’s lucky wish from a Chinese girl. He has a photo of her painting it pinned above his bed (see picture next page). It is characteristic of him to have his picture taken this way. The cigar is standard equipment.”
“This is a horrible but fascinating picture of a midget arrested in a vice case, unsuccessfully trying to dodge Weegee’s camera. About such pictures Weegee says: ‘I’m there to take pictures and I do it. I don’t gloat over it, it’s my job.'”
Brooklyn Eagle, April 17, 1940 (article from Fulton History)
(Is this the same Jerry Austin who was in Freaks (1932), Saratoga Trunk (1945), The Lovable Cheat (1949), etc.?)