Archive

1945


The New York Times, July 22, 1945

To commemorate the recently republished book, Weegee’s magnum opus, “Naked City,” a timeless (and funny: “But I had the sense to quit when the talkies came in” and insightful: “his favorite subjects are dummies…” and informative: “till last May Weegee was with…” and profound: “One day you’re a hero…”) piece from the The New York Times


Langston Hughes, Chicago Defender, December 8, 1945, p. 14

“And a wonderful, wonderful book with a brief Harlem section is Weegee’s “Naked City.” It’s just about the most dramatic and at times, amusing collection of photographs ever put together. It’s about New York – a swell book for photographers, amateur and professional, travellers, would-be-travellers, and anyone else who can see pictures. There’s a slight, incisive text which you don’t have to read, for Weegee’s photos say everything.”
Langston Hughes, Chicago Defender, December 8, 1945, p. 14


Langston Hughes, Chicago Defender, December 8, 1945, p. 14

“NEW TECHNIQUE OF MULTIPLE CIRCULATING EXHIBITIONS ON DISPLAY
AT MUSEUM OF MODERN ART”

“To satisfy, at least in part, the craving for accurate and understandable information both visual and verbal about various phases of art, the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, is preparing in multiple form a series of small, compact but very complete exhibitions to be sold or circulated throughout the country
and even abroad. Two of these exhibitions, What is Modern Painting? and Creative Photography, will be shown in the Museum’s Auditorium galleries Wednesday, March 7, for a period of three weeks, closing Sunday, March 25.”

“CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY
In terms understandable to the amateur, this 12-panel exhibition demonstrates the tremendous possibilities of the camera as a medium of Creative expression. Mounted on colored panels, more than two dozen major photographs by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Helen Levitt, Berenice Abbott,
Weegee,
Henri Cartier-Bresson and other outstanding American and European photographers, are reproduced by an extraordinarily accurate process. A group of smaller photographs made particularly for the exhibition by Andreas Feininger, noted photographer who acted as adviser, illustrates certain technical points. The panels also include text and explanatory diagrams under the following headings:

The photographer is an artist
He [and she] works with a mechanical tool
His [and her] medium is a scale of values
He [and she] selects the subject
He [and she] composes with his camera
He [and she] selects the moment
The camera records infinite detail
The camera creates its own perspective
The camera extends or compresses space
The camera stops or prolongs motion
The camera translates color into black-and-white.

This exhibition sells for $25.00. No rental copies are available.”

Creative Photography
March 6–25, 1945
At MoMA, in NYC.

Information from moma.org.

Three in a row: 1943, 1944 and 1945, at MoMA…

Weegee Speaks: While promoting Naked City Weegee did a number of radio interviews; audio, discovered in the archives of the Library of Congress, from a July 11th, 1945 interview with Mary Margaret McBride on WEAF can be heard: soundportraits.org
This is a transcript:

ANNOUNCER: It’s one o’clock, and here transcribed is Mary Margaret McBride.

MARY MARGARET MCBRIDE: Who’s always been madly in love with New York City, but maybe Weegee, I’m not quite as much in love with it as you are. The way everybody talks about you and this book, this beautiful book that you’ve done, I think maybe you not only love it better than I do, but you know it a doggone sight better than I do. You’ve been studying it how long?

WEEGEE: Well, all my life, down on all the streets, I know ’em all because I drive all night long. I know every block, every sign-post, every cop, every beggar… everything

MCBRIDE: Weegee, you must have another name and even I don’t know what it is.

WEEGEE: Well, let me see now. Oh yeah, my name, my real name, is Arthur Fellig, but nobody knows me by that. It’s Weegee.

MCBRIDE: I must tell you about Weegee — that’s a funny name, isn’t? W-E-E-G-E-E. He got it, I’m told, because somebody said “That guy acts as if he were propelled by a Ouija board.” Is that what they said?

WEEGEE: Oh yeah, I was named right after the Ouija board.

MCBRIDE: But they spell it differently?

WEEGEE: Well I used to spell it O-U-I-J-A, but I changed it to W-E-E-G-E-E to make it easier for the fan mail which I sometimes get.

MCBRIDE: Well, the reason they said he was like a Ouija board, it is because he’s psychic, he can pick up crime where there are no indications at the moment. He’ll just go to a spot, and there’s a feeling inside him. Isn’t that it, Weegee?

WEEGEE: That’s right. I can sense it. I hover around a neighborhood knowing something is gonna happen.

MCBRIDE: You don’t know what exactly?

WEEGEE: No — I can’t — I don’t know what, but I’m all ready with my camera, just in case.

MCBRIDE: I know in Naked City, that picture of a man just sitting on the curb. You took that and then suddenly he gets up to walk across the street and an automobile knocks him down and he’s killed right there before your eyes, and your camera records the whole thing.

WEEGEE: Yeah, it was a very sad thing, I mean, sometimes . . . I cry, I mean, but I can’t help it. I figure it’s my job to record these things, the same like the cops, firemen and ambulance driver arrive on a scene, I’m there too. Incidentally, if I arrive at the fire after the fire engines do, I feel disgraced and hurt.

MCBRIDE: Remember the time you were in Chinatown and you insisted on taking the picture of the hydrant and everyone thought you were a little crazy?

WEEGEE: Oh yeah, let me tell you about that. It was about two o’clock in the morning. I had nothing to do, so I went down to Chinatown, right in the heart of Chinatown. I aimed my camera and the two cops looked at me and they hollered over from across the street, “Why waste the film on us?” Well you won’t believe this when I tell you: the whole street blew up because the gas main caught fire.

MCBRIDE: And you don’t know what led you to go there?

WEEGEE: No, I just had nothing to do. It was just a nice morning. I mean, it had been too quiet I mean, or something. I don’t know myself.

MCBRIDE: Did you ever hear of anything so fascinating? And wait ’til I tell you — I understand that in this book, there’s a picture of a park bench that you yourself have slept on.

WEEGEE: That’s right. I used to sleep in Bryant Park not so many years ago. That was in the summertime of course, at 6 o’clock in the morning. A cop would come around and hit the sole of your shoe with a club. I’d get up and go looking for a job. I always loved photography but I couldn’t get no work. That was during the days of the depression and so forth and I started hanging around police headquarters at the teletype desk and took pictures. I had no business there, because you’re supposed to have press card, but I did it two years on my nerve, then after I got a little bit known the editors of the different newspapers that I sold my pictures to helped me get a press card.

MCBRIDE: I understand the police tailors make zipper pockets so your pockets won’t be picked.

WEEGEE: Oh yeah. Listen, you can see it right here – I mean this is no gag. I’ve got zippers in every pocket, because around police headquarters first thing you know, your cigars are gone, my drivers license may be gone, I take no chances.

MCBRIDE: I should think when you are taking pictures, you’re oblivious. You don’t really know what else is going.

WEEGEE: Oh absolutely not. I just look through the wire-finder in my camera and as a matter of fact, when I really see the picture is when I’ve develop the film. I really seem to be in a trance when I am taking the picture because there is so much drama taking place or is gonna take place. I mean, you just can’t hide it – go around wearing rose-colored glasses. In other words we have beauty and we have ugliness. Everybody likes beauty, but there’s an ugliness. When people look at these pictures of people sleeping on the fire escape, and kids and little girls holding cats, they just won’t believe a thing like that has happened.

MCBRIDE: You are going to love Naked City, published, by the way, by Duell, Sloan and Pearce under their Essential Books title.

WEEGEE: That’s right.

MCBRIDE: And its worth every nickel you’ll pay for it because some of the pictures are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. I have never seen photography like some of these. It’s beautiful, it’s sad, it’s funny.

WEEGEE: Don’t forget it’s human.

MCBRIDE: Human, that’s the word.

WEEGEE: It’s the people of New York exactly as I and others have seen it.

(To be continued…)

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Naked City, pp. 6-7

“Foreword

Persons looking on Weegee’s incredible photographs for the first time find it hard to believe that one ordinary earth-bound human being could have been present at so many climactic moments in the city’s life.

The simplest explanation of the phenomenon is that true love endows a man [or woman] with superhuman qualities, and Weegee is truly in love with New York. Not the New York that you and I know, but the New York that he has known, first as a poor immigrant boy and later as a free-lance newspaper photographer specializing in crime and violence.

Loving the city, Weegee has been able to live with her in the utmost intimacy. When he goes to bed in his room across the street from police headquarters, the city murmurs to him from the police-approved shortwave radio beside his bed. Even in slumber he is responsive to her. He will sleep through fifteen unpromising police calls and leap out at bed at the promising sixteenth. In sickness and in health he will take his camera and ride off in search of new evidence that his city, even in her most drunken and disorderly and pathetic moments, is beautiful. Of course Weegee, being an Artist, has his own conception of what constitutes beauty, and in some cases it is hard for us to share his conception; but insofar as we can share it, we can share his love for the city.

When he cruises in his 1938 Chevrolet. his love is beside him, talking to him from another shortwave radio: and as he listens to her he is also watching her, and he will stop to photograph the drunk asleep in front at the funeral parlor as further evidence of his love’s infinite variety.

Weegee is a rather portly, cigar-smoking, irregularly shaven man who has seen and recorded a great deal of ugliness and disaster, but he remains as shy and sensitive as if he had spent his life photographing babies and bridesmaids. This, I think, is further evidence that he has been inspired not by a taste for sensationalism but by his love for the city and her children – especially the troubled and unfortunate ones, the kitten-loving ones who sleep on fire escapes in the summer.

I think that Weegee’s subjective portrait of New York must be regarded as a work of creative art, because, although all at the elements were there for anyone to use, no one has ever used them as Weegee has. This portrait lived
first in Weegee’s heart and imagination. He patiently sought and painstakingly assembled those elements in a manner that would make it possible for us to see his city and believe it, and love it — and yet want to make it better. You don’t want those kids to go on sleeping on that fire escape forever, do you?

William McCleery
New York, Editor, PM Picture News”

It’s Naked City week…

Since we are in the second day of the 70th year since the publication of Naked City

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naked_city_p12
Naked City, pp. 11-12

“A Book is Born

One just doesn’t go up to strange men, women, children, elephants, or giraffes and say, “Look this way please. Laugh- cry show some emotion or go to sleep underneath a funeral canopy.” They would have called me crazy and called a cop who would have called the wagon with the guys in white and I would have wound up in the psychopathic ward at Bellevue Hospital in a strait jacket.
For the pictures in this book I was on the scene; sometimes drawn there by some power l can’t explain, and l caught the New Yorkers with their masks off. . . not afraid to Laugh, Cry, or make Love. What I felt I photographed, laughing and crying with them.
I have been told that my pictures should be in a book, that they were a great social document. As I keep to myself, belong to no group, like to be left alone with no axe to grind, I wouldn’t know. Then something happened. There was a sudden drop in Murders and Fires (my two best sellers, my bread and butter). I couldn’t understand that. With so many millions of people, it just wasn’t normal, but it did give me a chance to look over the pictures I had been accumulating. Put together, they seemed to form a pattern. I pasted the photographs up into a “dummy” book and left it with the publishers with a note “This is my brain child . . . handle care please.”
The people in these photographs are real. Some from the East Side and Harlem tenements, others are from Park Avenue. In most cases, they weren’t even aware they were being photographed and cared less. People like to be photographed and will always ask “What paper are you from, mister, and what day will they appear,” the jitterbugs and the Sinatra bobby-sock fans even want to know on what page it will appear. To me a photograph is a page from life, and that being the case, it must be real.”
Naked City, pp. 11-12

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Perhaps today marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of Naked City. To commemorate this historic event… Starting with what might be the first “rave notice” in print:

pm_1945_07_18_18-19c_copy-2
PM, July 18, 1945

LETTERS From the Editor
Rave Notice
“There’s a new book in the stores today by Weegee, who bills himself as “the famous” – and is.
It’s a book of pictures – pictures such as you’ve never seen before, except maybe in PM. It is called Naked City, published by Essential Books, sells for $4 – and is worth it.
I’ve been through my copy now three times, and every trip there’s something new.
The book is a collection of the better pictures Weegee has taken in the years he has spent as a freelance photographer, mostly of murders and fires, but sometimes of love. Many of them have appeared as news pictures in PM, and you’ll remember some of them – certainly the ones of Joe McWilliams, the Nazi lover, with the rear end of his horse, and Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh with the late Lady Decies and their jewels at the opera.
It is unfair to use a single illustration as typical, but I’m using the one in the next column of the Bowery floozy’s gam because I like it, and because I like Weegee’s caption: Ladies keep heir money in their stockings…
Weegee is a rumpled, heavy-set, cigar-smoking man with a camera who lives with one ear at a police radio. He rather likes to pass himself off as a character. He is, but not exactly the same one.”
-John P. Lewis
PM, July 18, 1945, p. 19

Naked City by the numbers:
Inspired by the quote: “Many of them have appeared as news pictures in PM” and being naturally curious, we decided to investigate the publication history of the photos in Naked City.
Naked City: 246 pages with 247 photos
Photos published before their publication in Naked City:
78 photos were published in PM
6 significant variant photos were published in PM
4 photos were published in The New York Daily News
3 photos were published in Life
2 photos were published in The New York Post
1 photo was published in The New York Herald Tribune

The earliest photo that we could conclusively date in a publication is “Balcony Seats at a Murder,” published in the New York Post, on Nov. 17, 1939.
The latest photo that we could conclusively date in a publication is “Opening Night at the Opera,” published in PM, on December 3, 1944.

To be continued…