Weegee

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Weegee

Weegee, pseud. of Arthur Fellig, 1899–1968, American photojournalist, b. Zolochiv, Ukraine (then in Austria-Hungary) as Asher Fellig. His family immigrated (1910) to New York City, where he soon quit school, held various photography-related jobs, and worked for Acme Newspictures (later part of United Press International) until 1935. For the next decade he freelanced, selling photos mainly to New York tabloids. About 1938 he adopted the name Weegee, supposedly a phonetic version of the name of the Ouija board, in tribute to his seemingly clairvoyant ability to arrive where and when news was breaking (he monitored the police radio).

With his big, flash-popping Speed Graphic, the cigar-chomping photographer became a fixture of the New York night. Drawn to the grotesque and illicit, he created high-contrast black-and-white shots of grisly crime scenes, fires, and car crashes and of New Yorkers at pleasure spots and grim scenes. He transformed these frequently bloody classics of photojournalism into an art form, one that influenced such later figures as Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and Andy Warhol.

Weegee became known to a larger audience with his 1945 best seller Naked City, which includes his own text. He later worked as a Hollywood movie consultant (1947–52), experimented with portraits shot with distorting lenses, and made three short films (1948, c.1950, and 1965). An archive of his photographs and negatives is at the International Center of Photography, New York City.

See his autobiography, Weegee on Weegee (1961); his other collections, Weegee's People (1946, repr. 1985), Naked Hollywood (1953, repr. 1975), Weegee's New York Photographs, 1935–1960 (1984, repr. 2000), and The Village (1989); J. Coplans, ed., Weegee: Naked New York (1997); A. Talmey, ed., Weegee (1997); M. Barth et al., Weegee's World (1997), and K. W. Purcell, Weegee: Arthur Fellig (2004).

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