The American photographer Arthur Fellig, who took the name Weegee as a reference to his seemingly clairvoyant ability to arrive at the scenes of grisly crimes, often in advance of the authorities (the name “Weegee” derives from the board game “Ouija”). No other photographer combines the worlds of news reporting and high art as seamlessly as he does—many of his photos were taken for immediate publication in newspapers, but the originality of his compositions have ensured that his work is routinely discussed in the same breath as masters of photography like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Berenice Abbott, and Garry Winogrand. The prime of Weegee’s career was in the 1940s and he died in 1968, but the vitality of his pictures and the lurid subject matter (many of his subjects are murder victims) led to a certain vogue in the 1980s and 1990s. His first book was called Naked City, a phrase that was adopted by avant-garde jazz musician John Zorn for one of his combos in the 1980s—I first discovered Weegee’s work through the cover of their first album. In 1992 Joe Pesci starred in a fictionalized version of Weegee’s life called The Public Eye, directed by Howard Franklin (in the movie, Pesci plays “Bernzy,” who is embroiled in an actual murder plot).
In 1943, with the use of an infrared flash and special film, Weegee captured audience members in New York City movie theaters, unaware that their images were being recorded. The results are predictably marvelous….