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Weegee

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The Weegee Guide to New Yorkv

Introduction

Visiting New York City is on many a street photographers’ to-do or wish lists. And rightfully so. It’s New York. The reasons for wanting to make a photographic pilgrimage there are abundant. ┬áThink of all the famous street photographers that have shot there. Garry Winogrand, Paul Strand, Diane Arbus, Bruce Gilden, Mary Ellen Mark and Elliott Erwitt to name just a few. And there’s up-and-coming, future famous photographers putting out superb work right now. Khalik Allah comes to mind. And these photographers work in a streethunter’s nirvana. The Big Apple is an American city at maximum. A bottomless cup of cultures, characters and scenes. And, needless to say, the city is also a wellspring for the news photographer. In a city of over eight million people, there is news happening all the time. Crime, fires, traffic accidents. And no one photographer in the 1930’s and 40’s could work the streets better than Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee.

Under the influence of Weegee

Introduction

The line between photojournalism and street photography can be a blurry one. Though there are clearly defined examples of each, some work straddles the line. The determining factor on how you categorize one of those images depends solely on your definition of each. Some say everything is street, and other types of photography, like photojournalism, are just a sub-genres of it. Others say street is a bastard child of photojournalism. But does it really matter? The question, in my book, is tired. Just like film vs.digital and color vs. mono. However, we like categories. Categories make things easy. Easy to market and easy to consume.

Long before there was social media and a “need” for such debate, there was Weegee. Weegee didn’t care about the line. He crossed it, went back over it and, at times, erased it.

Weegee, the pseudonym of Arthur Fellig(1899-1968), was the original tabloid photographer. His claim to fame was his stark and gritty New York City crime scene photos, along with his images of fires, car wrecks and other tragedies. But buried underneath his shocking news photos was a lovely portfolio of street work.

Fellig got his break into photojournalism in the 1930’s, breaking out of his job working in the darkroom at Acme photos, a stock photo company. He would go out at night and photograph crime scenes while the staff photographers slept, but he never received credit for his work from the stock company. Going freelance, he then developed a relationship with the Manhattan Police Department.

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