FAIRYTALES OF NEW YORK ; Weegee Was the Original Tabloid Photographer, the Veteran of Almost 5,000 Murder Cases, and Famous for Arriving at Crime Scenes before Even the Police Themselves. to Celebrate a New Book of His Work, the Novelist Tama Janowitz Tells His Story
Janowitz, Tama, The Independent (London, England)
THEY CALLED this guy Weegee because they thought he was psychic, like a ouija board. He would turn up before even the police knew someone was dead; it was like an instinct, if there is such a thing - an instinct for turning up at a moment of crisis or violence or drama. And this was a long time ago, in the first half of the 20th century, so he had to use some kind of special exploding flash powder at night, as you didn't have, back then, your halogen lighting or slow-speed film or digital low-light - whatever people use now, if there even are such people now.
He was a first-generation immigrant who had arrived in New York from Austria in 1910. Now, New York City is, and has always been, a city of immigrants. Sure there are immigrants in other cities but New York City is entirely immigrants, and has been ever since the Dutch and the Brits arrived. There wasn't anybody around f before that, except the native peoples, who apparently didn't quite grasp the fact that when they took the wampum and other stuff from the Dutch (...or was it the Brits? I am an American, remember, so don't know much of this history stuff, due to my lack of education...). But from what I do understand, these indigenous people didn't really grasp that the sale of Manhattan was, well, permanent.
Of course, now the kids get a different education here completely - like my daughter in fourth grade who is being taught that Christopher Columbus is a really bad guy who just wanted to be famous. (Only then in her class in honour of Columbus Day she was supposed to write a paper on why we celebrate Columbus Day, and she said, "But mom, this guy was bad and he carried diseases, why do we celebrate?")
So here is another guy of whom our opinion has been revised, over the years - when Weegee started out he was considered a tabloid photographer, someone out there taking lurid, disgusting shots that were not for "nice" people. And now today he is considered an artist, or at least an art photographer. But more importantly he recorded the times, the scene, the New York City he saw around him, the five boroughs. He captured not just death and disaster - concepts which would later entrance everyone from Andy Warhol to Damien Hirst - but people, places, buildings, that otherwise would indeed have vanished for ever.
He was born "Usher" Fellig in the Austrian province of Galicia (now part of Ukraine) and came to New York while still a child - 10 years old, speaking no English - and at a time when more and more immigrants were simply pouring into this country, more than ever before or since. He arrived at Ellis Island, where he was inspected for tuberculosis and an immigration officer Americanised his name to Arthur. Then the new arrivals were released into the jam-packed, overcrowded tenements of the Lower East Side and elsewhere, where hundreds of thousands of fellow immigrants were also trying to make a go of it.
The father little Usher/Arthur hadn't seen in four years was running a small grocery store; he lived with him and his mother, two brothers and a sister in a couple of rooms on the fifth floor (no elevator, one toilet down the hall used by four families) of a tenement. Back then it was Eastern European Jews crowding in, and the Germans and the Irish and f some Chinese; now each year it is more difficult to immigrate here, but still people come.
Anyway, the years passed, and Usher got used to being Arthur, until Arthur finally became Weegee, the notorious tabloid photographer. And now we have this gorgeous new book (published by Phaidon, with commentary by Kerry William Purcell), which adds a whole other layer of depth to the pictures, which no longer appear to possess that tabloid shock-factor but rather to have an almost movie-like innocence or unreality to them - especially at a time when, according to the American papers, you can now buy a video or DVD …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: FAIRYTALES OF NEW YORK ; Weegee Was the Original Tabloid Photographer, the Veteran of Almost 5,000 Murder Cases, and Famous for Arriving at Crime Scenes before Even the Police Themselves. to Celebrate a New Book of His Work, the Novelist Tama Janowitz Tells His Story. Contributors: Janowitz, Tama - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 27, 2004. Page number: 20. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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