Exhibitions: When in Poland…

(Old News)

The Berinson Weegee Collection Exhibition in Poland:

May 9, 2009 – July 26, 2009
Copied from National Museum’s Web Site:

Weegee from the Berinson’s Collection

9 May 2009  –  26 July 2009

The National Museum in Krakow – the Main Building, al. 3 Maja 1

The figure of Weegee as a pioneer and a classic figure in journalistic photography, 
characterized by the picture taken ‘off the cuff,’ implies questions about the 
borderline between spontaneity and the creation of a spectacle, appeasing the 
mass audience’s desire for the sensational. These pictures from the collection 
of Hendrik Berinsonn, shown in Krakow for the very first time, bear incredible 
testimonial to a time – and from behind the pictures emerges the figure of the 
artist himself, who was already a legend back in the 30s and 40s – when he 
was most professionally active.
Weegee was the pseudonym of Arthur Felig, born in 1899 into a Jewish 
family in Złoczew, not far from Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine). In 1909 
his family immigrated to the United States – Fellig grew up in New York’s 
Lower East Side. This was one of the most dangerous districts during the
time of the Great Depression – it became the scene of his professional 
work. As a teenager, he left his parents and took various pick-up jobs, 
including one as assistant to a street photographer. He also visited the 
police station, taking pictures of criminals, which in time transformed into 
his passion and his profession. He was a typical self-made man, who was 
more interested in being in the center of events and being their witness
than he was in the artistic side of photography. He worked for the most 
frequently read newspapers: ‘The Daily News,’ ‘The Daily Mirror,’ and ‘PM,’ 
whose editors primarily valued his incredible mobility. Weegee’s speed was 
(like just about everything concerning him) legendary – he apparently could 
appear at the scene of the crime before the police or the firemen. 
This should come as no surprise, given that he was equipped with a police 
radio. He always had a typewriter at the ready and an extra pair of underwear, 
and his car had a darkroom installed in the trunk. Weegee was mainly interested 
in crime – murder, mugging, accidents. In New York in the 30s and 40s you 
could find a ‘fresh’ corpse on just about every street-corner.
Photojournalists back then generally lived in strategic parts of town. One of the 
most famous was the main New York police station, Center Market Place, 
bordering on Little Italy, Chinatown and SoHo. From there, Weegee could 
keep on top of an endless stream of crimes, and also head for the rich 
districts, where he and his camera chronicled the luxurious life of the 
New York’s high society. His photographs unerringly capture the societal 
differences and almost neurotic tension typical of the New York of those 
times. He loved to photograph the rich, and people on the verge of 
madness. For all his documentary approach, Weegee’s work reveals a
heavy dose of cynicism, visible in the title of a 1939 photo – I Cried When 
I Took This Picture.
 ‘The best bad things happen at night.’ Weegee worked mainly at night. 
His photographs are strangely contemporary, a constant attempt to grasp the 
moment. They seem to be spontaneous – they are limited to the moment of 
the flash, whose light is reflected off the subjects in the picture. They are 
the victims of the crime, but also the viewer himself: the participant in 
the crime who wants a picture of it, the tabloid reader. The spontaneity 
and documentary feel may, however, be misleading. A famous picture 
called The Critic (1943) shows self-satisfied ladies of the upper crust 
going toward the Metropolitan Opera, passing by women of the night. 
This picture perfectly captures the tension between the polarized statuses 
of the women. The picture’s fleeting character gives it the feel of authenticity. 
It turns out, however, to have been set up. This fact reveals the process of the 
spontaneous mythologization of events, the constant building of the legend of 
prohibition-era New York. Everything happens like a big performance, 
documented by the Famous Weegee.

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