An article from the Indianapolis Star, indystar.com, newspaper…
By Christopher Lloyd June 2, 2008
“The Indianapolis Museum of Art acquires rare photos worth $500K…
A treasure trove of personal items from one of New York’s most iconic photographers has found a home in Indianapolis, by way of a Kentucky farmhouse.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art will announce Tuesday the acquisition of 210 photos and nearly 100 letters and other documents from Weegee, aka Arthur Fellig.
Weegee, who died in 1968, was famous for his news photographs capturing the underbelly of mid-century New York in stark black-and-white images. He got his moniker after an Ouija board for his uncanny ability to show up at a murder scene or fire ahead of police and firefighters.
The collection, thought to be worth about $500,000, was found in the bottom of a trunk by two Indianapolis women at a yard sale at a southern Kentucky farmhouse five years ago.
Under some old dresses, they found a pile of photographs and papers, which they almost threw away. Instead, the women sold them to local historic document dealer Steve Nowlin, who has decided to donate them to the IMA. He did not reveal how much he paid for the items.
“When I first saw them, I had no idea who Weegee was. But I’m pretty quick on the Internet, and it took me a few minutes to find out who he was and what the value was,” said Nowlin, adding that he spent a month researching the material. “It was just an incredible find of photographs and hand-written letters, and some other miscellaneous things.”
The items are believed to have belonged to longtime Weegee companion Wilma Wilcox. She was a New Yorker, too. Nobody is sure how the trunk made it to Kentucky.
The items include photographs spanning his career, as well as letters, postcards, newspaper clippings, Weegee’s press passes and even his Social Security card. And there are about three dozen portraits of Weegee taken by others, including photographers Philippe Halsman and Simon Nathan.
The collection is a partial gift from Nowlin, and a partial purchase by the Caroline Marmon Fesler Fund and the Alliance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, according to IMA officials. Nowlin said he is donating about $400,000 of the value, and the museum is compensating him for the balance.
Photographs in the collection include crime scene images for which Weegee was most renowned, as well as pictures of Harlem, jazz concerts, darkened movie theaters, strippers, transvestites and other myriad aspects of the city he chronicled using his Speed Graphic camera. There are also images from the 1950s and ’60s, when Weegee started taking intentionally distorted photographs of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Davis.
Nowlin said one series of photographs came from an exhibit of paintings by Pablo Picasso in London that the artist attended. “Weegee befriended him and took pictures of Picasso, and distorted pictures of Picasso’s distorted pictures.”
A compilation of Weegee’s photographs was published in 1945 under the title “Naked City,” which was turned into a 1948 classic film noir of the same name. “The Public Eye,” a 1992 movie starring Joe Pesci, is said to be inspired by the life of Weegee.
Maxwell Anderson, director and CEO of the IMA, says Weegee’s work straddled the line between candid journalism and posed art photography.
“Photography is a 20th-century language, and artworks made throughout the course of the 20th century were affected by photography,” Anderson said.
“Weegee is a fascinating figure in that story, because there’s the school … of photojournalistic intent that metamorphoses into art, and then there is art photography where people are working in a medium that is very much apart and separate from candid photography. And then there is Weegee, who represents a bridge between a couple of approaches that people have taken to the camera.”
Martin Krause, the museum’s curator of prints, drawings and photographs, said they don’t yet know when any of the collection might go on exhibit. The IMA’s main galleries are booked until 2010.
The size and breadth of the collection are what make it a historic find, according to Anderson.
“A single photograph by Weegee tells a story. But having a couple hundred allows you to distill some of that creative tension and nervous energy, the hiss and crackle of what life in the big city was like after the Second World War.””