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Naked City


PM, April 23, 1944, pp.m4-5

Fire Alarm
Weegee calls this his favorite photo. It was made at dawn recently on Manhattan’s Lower East Side during a tenement house fire. ‘The couple on the sidewalk,’ Weegee told us, ‘are watching the fire and hoping their belongings will not be burned. That is, the ones which the man had to leave behind.’ What happens to New Yorkers when they’re burned out of their homes? Well, the Emergency Welfare Division of the Department of Welfare takes them under its wing; finds temporary quarters for them in hotels, rooming houses or the Municipal Lodging House; helps them find new permanent homes; provides emergency food, clothing and even money for expenses. Families with very low incomes and those on relief get replacements of destroyed clothing and furniture free of charge. Clothing and blankets are kept in a Division warehouse and are rushed to citizens whom fire has forced to jump out of bed and flee into the cold night.” PM, April 23, 1944, pp.m5


US Camera, 1944, p. 40

“How these pictures were made.
SALVAGE from a tenement house fire is a typical Weegee shot. He says: “The other photogs on the job thought I was nuts to turn my camera on the spectators instead of the fire – but of all the pix I’ve made, I like this the best.” Made with a 4×5″ news camera, fast pan film, one flash bulb, in 1/200th of a secons at f/16.”


Naked City, 1945, p. 71

“A couple driven out from the burning tenement… I don’t know their names… but I did hear someone call him ‘Pincus’… so here they are right across the street from their burning tenement… it looks like Pincus had time to grab a woman’s dress… his best coat… but minus the pants…” Naked City, 1945, p. 71


“Tenement fire, 1945.” Weegee, 1977, p. 65


“The clothing has been saved, 1943.” Weegee’s New York, 1982, p. 34


“A couple driven out from the burning tenement…” Weegee’s World, 1997 p. 120

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…)