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The Best Art Books of 2018
The Times’s art critics select some of their favorite art books and books related to art of the year.

by Roberta Smith
‘FLASH: THE MAKING OF WEEGEE THE FAMOUS’ By Christopher Bonanos (Henry Holt & Company). By current standards, the street photographer Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, might be considered a kind of performance artist: elbowing his way to the front of the more sensational scenes of New York night life, snapping pictures in his indelible noir style and developing them in the trunk of his car — so as to rush his product to the dailies ahead of the pack. His ambition, self-invention and neuroses are all detailed in this sharp biography by Mr. Bonanos, who clearly admires the artist, sees the unsavory aspects of the man and knows old New York as well as anyone too young to have lived through it. (Read the book review.)
NY Times, Dec. 14, 2018, p.C20



NYRB @ NYPL

New York Review of Books, December 6, 2018, Volume 65, Number 19, pp.44-45

“Shots in the Dark”
by Edward Kosner

Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous by Christopher Bonanos
Extra! Weegee: A Collection of 359 Vintage Photographs from 1929–1946 edited by Daniel Blau

Weegee’s people are generally funny-looking and badly dressed. Many of them are murdered—the blood pooling around their heads, some with their ankles oddly crossed as if they are taking a nap in the gutter. Their cars are wrecked, their tenements gutted by fire, their loved ones sobbing in the streets. Even their pets look morose. The rare happy ones are celebrating Hitler’s defeat or stampeding through the lobby of the Roxy Theatre in Times Square to score seats for Jimmy Dorsey’s big-band show. All of the pictures Weegee took with his Speed Graphic camera are in high-contrast black-and-white, like scenes from Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil.

He snapped his mesmerizing photographs in a sweaty frenzy between seventy and eighty years ago. There are two haughty dowagers accosted by a shabbily dressed drunk woman at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera; children sleeping on a fire escape in a slum; a man arrested for cross-dressing grinning and baring his thigh in the back of a paddy wagon; a panoramic mob filling every inch of sand at Coney Island; an anguished mother in a black kerchief staring at the tenement fire in which her daughter and granddaughter are perishing. These familiar images were captured by an immigrant working in the depths of the Depression and wartime for a couple of dollars per newspaper shot. The alchemy of time and evolving taste has transmuted more than a few of them into art.

Weegee was less concerned with art than with fame. “A picture is like a blintz,” he liked to say. “Eat it while it’s hot.” He was so obsessed with celebrity that he proclaimed himself Weegee the Famous when he was no more than a legend in his own mind. When his work and relentless self-promotion finally won him recognition, his photography veered off into idiosyncratic and schlocky tangents. The man whose images were in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art churned out tits-and-ass shots for a pair of men’s magazines called Hi and Ho!, which were each half the width of a regular magazine—the better to hide in a raincoat.

Self-taught and self-propelled, Weegee has a singular place in the pantheon of street photographers that includes such masters as Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Berenice Abbott, Robert Frank, Ruth Orkin, and Diane Arbus. Only Arbus routinely used flash, as Weegee did, to capture her menagerie of odd subjects, and none shot with Weegee’s Speed Graphic press camera. His prints were raw, sometimes overexposed, often repetitious. They have none of the austere serenity of Orkin’s pictures of snowy Central Park from her window or the creepy pathos of Arbus’s portrait of the young giant and his tiny parents in their claustrophobic flat or the finesse of Cartier-Bresson. Instead, Weegee’s punks and grotesque car wrecks…

It took two great books to get Weegee into the NY Review of Books

(We would enjoy a David Levine caricature of Weegee… In addition to being great caricaturists, apparently they both shared an affinity towards Coney Island: “Others have possessed this beach: Reginald Marsh, George Bellows, Weegee. But for a long time now it has belonged to David Levine… — Pete Hamill” from davidliveneart.)


Screenshot from eastman.org.

Copied from eastman.org:

“Inscriptions verso (ink): The notice for Burglars Ball
Hospital took this notice
down

(stamped): [inscription partially obscured] photo sold for use in one Publication
[illeg.] not to be resold, loaned, [illeg.]
[illeg.] used for advertising purposes with [illeg.]
written permission.
CREDIT LINE MUST READ
photo by
A. FELLIG
5 CENTER MARKET PLACE, N. Y. C.”

This is intriguing… another “Burglar’s Ball” photo recently acquired by GEH…


Daily Mail, August 2, 2018 (Updated 8:18 EDT), screenshot

Text copied from dailymail.com:

Grisly crime scene pictures of bloodied murder victims from early 1900s New York City taken by legendary news photographer Weegee are seen in color for the first time

Arthur Fellig took dozens of harrowing crime scene photos by following emergency services around
He was first on scene so often he was said to be able to predict crime and was nicknamed Weegee…
Black and white photos were painstakingly colorized for the first time by Frenchman Frédéric Duriez

By Nic White For Mailonline

Published: 06:08 EDT, 2 August 2018 | Updated: 08:18 EDT, 2 August 2018

Gruesome early 20th Century crime scenes of New York’s gangland murders by a legendary news photographer can be seen in color for the first time.

The unnerving shots by Arthur Fellig show the bodies of Robert Green and Jacob Jagendorf after a failed robbery attempt, a bloodied couple lying dead in bed, and a murder victim with a chalk outline drawn around him.
Fellig was said to have been able to ‘predict’ crime and captured dozens of harrowing scenes under the pseudonym Weegee by following emergency services around…”
“Fellig revolutionized photojournalism with his stark portraits of urban crime scenes, often shooting the aftermath of violent murders and horrific accidents.
The images captured the rapidly changing city that New York was in the decade before prohibition, which itself brought a fresh wave of violent crime.
Fellig worked on New York City’s Lower East Side as a press photographer during the 1930s and 1940s, and developed his signature style by following the city’s emergency services and documenting their activity.
Much of his work depicted unflinchingly realistic scenes of urban life, crime, injury and death…”
“The photos like this one of a woman who was murdered in her own bed in a run-down apartment can now be seen in brilliant color, as with her purple dress, for the first time. The unnerving shots were taken by Arthur Fellig, who was said to have been able to ‘predict’ crime and captured dozens of harrowing scenes under the pseudonym Weegee by following emergency services around.
He published photographic books and also worked in cinema, initially making his own short films and later collaborating with film directors such as Jack Donohue and Stanley Kubrick.
Fellig earned his nickname, a phonetic rendering of Ouija, because of his frequent, seemingly prescient arrivals at scenes only minutes after crimes, fires or other emergencies were reported to authorities.
He is variously said to have named himself Weegee or to have been named either by the staff at Acme Newspictures or by a police officer…”

Above text copied from dailymail.com.


Daily Mail, August 2, 2018 (Updated 10:55 EDT), screenshot

Text copied from dailymail.com:

Grisly crime scene pictures of bloodied murder victims from early 1900s New York City are seen in color for the first time

WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT…
They were taken in the first two decades of the 20th Century as New York underwent social change
Black and white photos were painstakingly colorized for the first time by Frenchman Frédéric Duriez
Gruesome early 20th Century crime scenes of New York’s gangland murders, robberies gone wrong, and crimes of passion can be seen in color for the first time.
The unnerving shots show the bodies of two thieves who fell down an elevator shaft in a failed robbery attempt, a bizarre murder-suicide, and a victim with a chalk outline drawn around him.
The black and white crime scene photographs were painstakingly colorized by Frédéric Duriez, 52, from Angres, France, to show what detectives would really have seen.
‘I think that it’s is a haunting collection of crime scene photographs never meant to be seen by the public in color,’ he said.
‘I like how picture was taken, just above the character, this increases the dramatic side of the scene. It is by chance that I discovered these pictures on the internet, they seemed fantastic. I thought, why not colorize them.’
The images captured the rapidly changing city that New York was in the decade before the prohibition of 1920-33, which itself brought a fresh wave of violent crime. ”

Above text copied from dailymail.com.

dailymail.co.uk

Obviously Weegee didn’t make the photos, they were made by unidentified photographers, the “original” digital files are from the NYC Municipal Archives.

Photography is not a competition.
Or, maybe it is…
I don’t know.


Double Take: A Comparative Look at Photographs, by Richard Whelan, 1981, pp. 152-53

BA’s photo was made in 1937, approximately six years before Weegee’s photo… 10 points for BA!
BA’s photo is presumably an 8×10 contact print… 18 points for BA!
Detailed caption: “Gunsmith and Police Department, 6 Centre Market Place and 240 Centre Street, Manhatan; February 4, 1937. Built in 1850 and 1906. Architect for Police Headquarters, Hoppin & Koehn…” (from MCNY blog)… 3,000 points for BA!

Impressively bewildering use of flash; day or night… 45 points for Weegee…
When was that photo made? Is that a positive or negative? Minus 44 points for Weegee…

Amazing depth of field… TKO for BA!

Even with a home field advantage…

Berenice Abbott wins round one!