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Weegee's World: Life, Death and the Human Drama

January 27 - April 22, 2001


Over 200 raucous, gritty, exuberant and sometimes tender images by Weegee (Arthur Fellig, 1899-1968), one of the most important and influential photojournalists, comprise the exhibition Weegee's World. This exhibition includes Weegee's most famous photographs and many never before seen. They are drawn entirely from the International Center for Photography's extensive Weegee Archive and Collection, a bequest of Wilma Wilcox, the photographer's companion during the last 11 years of life. The International Association of Art Critics selected Weegee's World as the best photography exhibition in a museum for the 1997-98 season.

Weegee did not invent tabloid news photography, but he perfected it. The bold, graphic, instantly legible style of his newspaper work, and his tough, often disturbing subject matter have influenced every subsequent generation of photographers. Weegee cruised through New York City in a 1938 Chevrolet, monitoring a police radio (he was the first civilian to be granted a permit to do so), and racing to the scene of any event that might be a picture in the making. (left: Murder on the Roof, 1944)

"There had to be a good meaty story," Weegee once said, "to get the editors to buy the pictures. A truck crash with the driver trapped inside, his face a crisscross of blood, a tenement house fire with the screaming people being carried down the aerial ladder clutching their babies, dogs, cats, canaries, parrots, monkeys, and even snakes, a just shot gangster, lying in the gutter, well-dressed in his dark suit and pearl grey hat, hot off the griddle, with a priest, who seemed to appear from nowhere, giving him the last rites, just caught stick-up men, lady burglars, etc."

Born in Austria, Usher Fellig (anglicized to Arthur at Ellis Island) arrived in New York in 1910 as part of the wave of immigrants flooding into the New York's Lower East Side. He left school at the age of 14 to help support his family, working at odd jobs, including photographing children in the park on a rented pony. He found his way to the darkrooms of The New York Times and later Acme Newspictures (which became United Press International Photos). After several years as a technician, he began filling in on photographic assignments when staff photographers were unavailable. (left: The Gay Deceiver, 1940)

Working primarily for the once numerous daily newspapers of New York City, Weegee compiled a unique and compelling body of work during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, which he called "the famous pictures of a violent era, the pictures that all the great papers with all their resources couldn't get, and had to buy from me. In shooting these pictures," Weegee said, "I had also photographed the soul of the city I knew and loved."

According to Cheekwood associate curator Rusty Freeman, "Though it isn't widely known, Weegee's first book of photography -- Naked City 1945 -- inspired the movie genre of film noire, which explores the dark side of human nature. Visually, the genre took many of its cues from Weegee's photography: overexposed faces, figures emerging from shadows, and grotesque circumstances. But Weegee also captured the more mundane aspects of everyday life, including such uncomplicated events as children cooling off with a spraying fire hydrant on a hot summer day, circus performers being shot from a cannon and the crowded beaches at Coney Island." During 1999 the Weegee exhibition toured prestigious European venues, including the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and PhotoEspaña in Madrid. After its stay at Cheekwood, the exhibition will travel to the Akron Art Museum, Worcester Art Museum and Cincinnati Art Museum.


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For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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