Weegee: Murder is My Business

“Hold Up Man Killed”, 1941, Weegee, Int’l Center of Photography

Sometimes Weegee seems too good to be true….just when the world needed an intrepid and unflinching freelance crime photographer to document the seamier side of New York in the 193os and 40s, it got one. He even looks like he’s from central casting, with the fedora, and the omnipresent cigar sticking out of his mouth.

The International Center of Photography’s Weegee Archive has an amazing collection of 20,000 prints, as well as magazines and newspapers containing the photographer’s work, and some of his documentary films. The Countess and I (and a couple of unaccountably bored teenagers) poked our nose into their new exhibition Weegee: Murder Is My Business last week. A picture’s worth a thousand words,. so here are some of my fleeting impressions as I passed transfixed through the gallery:

bound-up body stuffed in a steamer trunk in Red Hook

perp walk of a scar-faced hoodlum

story on the The “Mad Dog Killers”

a hundred faces peeping out of tenement windows to rubberneck at a body collapsed on the steps of a candy store

table in the evidence room piled high with policy sacks

“Killing Over a Glass of Warm Beer”

midget arrested in a vice bust. Is he the same guy as “Shorty, the Bowery Cherub”, referred to in another photo?

ice-encrusted Bravest at a firebug’s blaze

a woman laughing gleefully over the corpse of an accident victim

punk dropped in his tracks on the roof near the pigeon coop

kids cavort at the East Side killing of a longshoreman

If you are a writer of a certain type of  fiction and having writers’ block, I highly recommend you step over to the ICP and see this show. You’ll get material enough for a hundred books.

In addition to the dozens of photographic prints and clippings from newspapers and magazines, there are touchscreens with slideshows of still more images; a scale replica of Weegee’s apartment (recreated from his own photos), examples of the kinds of cameras he would have used, and a couple of his motion picture films, including a most enjoyable study of a day at Coney Island in 1948.

If you are hyper-squeamish, I’d advise you steer clear of the ICP’s basement and take in one of their other fine temporary exhibitions. To everyone else, I highly recommend the Weegee show. It’s up through September. More info here.

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