Arthur Fellig who called himself Weegee, was one of a kind, and in some ways far ahead of his time. His coverage of the seamy side of New York life was unparalleled. He was both admired and intensely disliked. Personally, I admired his way of working and his work, and at the same time I found this unkept, foul cigar-smoking photographer hard to take.
Weegee lived in a small room behind Police Headquarters on Center Street. His bed was never made, and his room was littered with unwashed dishes and camera equipment. Weegee kept a police radio in his room and one in his car In his car trunk he had a department store mannequin. He prowled the city at night, always the first to arrive at the scene of a murder or fire or accident.
He was the quintessential newspaper photographer and he knew how to promote himself. I saw him often at PM showing his work to the editors and the other photographers. The editors admired his work but some of the photographers were jealous and often taunted him, saying that he was unable to make a good negative or asking why he didn’t wash. In response he would smile and say, “I don’t care what you say about me as long as you say it.”
Weegee was a genius at simplifying what was then a complicated picture-taking process, and this was what enabled him to get the moments that others missed. He would set his camera at 12 feet and his f-stop at 5.6. He used Super Panchro Press Type B, a film rated at 125 ASA (fast for its time) and a large 22 flash bulb… He once explained to me, was that most of what he photographed happened between 8 and 20 feet away from… to calculate his exposure or distance, then he could use his Speed Graphic like a box camera, much like today… cameras. This allowed him to concentrate on capturing the moment. And if the negative was not perfect, that was… as long as he could get a print that would reproduce
There was a fire on 14th Street at Lerners department store, and because of a mixup on the picture desk, four photographers showed up. Weegee was there first. The fire was not much, so Weegee took his mannequin out of his car trunk. He was already taking a picture of a fireman carrying the mannequin, when Dan Keleher came along. He shot Weegee shooting the fireman and the mannequin and Steve Derry shot both Dan and Weegee. When I arrived a few minutes later, I was just in time to make the overall picture of all of them. PM used a full page.
Left to right WEEGEE, Photog. Dan Keleher, Picture editor Sally Pepper and a copy girl.
ON ASSIGNMENT 162″
[A mannequin… Not an enlarger and darkroom equipment?:-]