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New York noir brought to life in photo exhibit

20 january 2012, 17:53
©REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
©REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Murders, fires, traffic accidents, mafia encounters: this was the world of eccentric New York photographer Arthur "Weegee" Fellig now brought back to life in a new exhibit, AFP reports.

"As a photographer, Weegee is perhaps the truest, most perceptive, most cynical, and yet blatantly sentimental chronicler of urban life in 20th century New York," the International Center of Photography said, presenting the exhibit "Murder is my Business."

The exhibition, which opens Friday until September, features about 100 Weegee pictures from the 20,000 archived by the ICP, as well as newspapers and magazines from his heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, and a reproduction of his studio and living quarters.

Weegee, as he was known, lived between 1899-1968 and became a legend in New York for his coverage of the seamy side of life.

His work habits were considered revolutionary for the era. Weegee lived directly in front of the police headquarters in southern Manhattan and spent all night on the city streets looking for news.

In 1938, he was the sole press photographer allowed to listen in on police radio frequencies. His car featured a mini dark room, which allowed him to work at breaking news speed.

Weegee claimed to have covered 5,000 murders and he'd proudly show a check stub from Life magazine declaring it had paid him $35 for covering two murders.

His work was full of black-and-white images of barely cold bodies, suspects trying to hide their faces from the camera, and relatives of crime victims.

"He was not a fine photographer, he was not making pictures for a gallery in Chelsea or for museums.... He was aiming at the working class, the ethnic groups who read tabloid newspapers on their way to work," Brian Wallis, chief curator for the exhibition, said at a preview.

Weegee was interested as much in police as in the bystanders at crime scenes. But he also caught extraordinarily tender moments such as a policeman holding two recently born kittens just rescued from a fire, or a woman holding her dead husband's head.

"Murder is My Business" takes the title of a show organized by Weegee in 1941. He became even more famous in 1945 with "Naked City," a book of 240 photographs showing the "good, the bad, and the ugly" and dedicated to "you, the people of New York."

Since November the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles has shown the exhibit "Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles."

Wallis said Weegee's work is being taken more seriously now "because certain aspects of his work were dismissed in the past."

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