Considered by some as the American version of Brassai because he photographed at night, Usher Felling A.K.A. Arthur H. Fellig A.K.A. Weegee was one of those photographers who had the audacity to re-invent himself, invent a career, a style and a way of working that we take for granted today, but that in the 30s and 40s nobody had thought of.
Born in what is now Ukraine, Weegee emigrated to New York with his family in 1909. He started out as an assistant and later became a commercial photographer, but he was never one to wait for work to magically appear before him; he preferred to have an active part in the whole process and began to go out at night to photograph events.
When he was still known as ‘Arthur’, he realised that there was a market for event photography and daily press news, but, due to the technical limitations of the time, these chronicles took time to appear in the media or were simply never published. He therefore decided to create a portable lighting and development system that would allow him to deliver his work to the newspapers almost instantly (relative to the time, of course).
Another one of Arthur’s ingenious feats was to become the only graphic reporter in the city with permission to carry a short-wave radio with police frequency. Thanks to this he managed to quickly get crime scenes, in some occasions even before the police. His instant and seemingly prescient arrivals at these scenes seemed as magical as a Ouija board and, as you have probably guessed by now, how the pseudonym ‘Weegee’ came about.
No one knows if this mystical nickname was self-appointed or given to him by someone else, but it certainly put him and his photographs in the limelight. His fame grew so much that he not only did he get access to the most explicit (and a slightly sinister) press photography but was also able to document the life of New York’s high society. More recently, his legacy was also immortalized in the garaphic novel: Weegee. Serial Photographer.
For me the most interesting thing about Weegee, aside from his capacity for reinvention and adaptation, was that he had a great ability to capture and express extraordinary dynamism in those events that he appeared at as if by magic, something that was not easy to achieve with the equipment that he had.
He was a visionary whose creativity and inventiveness transformed photojournalism forever and made him the legend that he is today.
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