As a photographer and photojournalist, Arthur Fellig (Weegee) was in his own words “spellbound by the mystery of murder.” His uncanny ability to make early appearances at scenes of violence and catastrophe earned him the name Weegee (appropriated from the Ouija board). His film noir style and dry wit combined with his sensational images of the naked city, often taken at night with a strong flash, have earned him a reputation as one of the greatest street photographers of the 20th century.
Among the highlights in the exhibition will be a 1936 self portrait of Weegee getting his own mug shot at a police station. A series of portraits of people looking up in the sky from 1945 depicts children, a police officer, a man with a telescope, and a nun all watching a fire. A 1943 image entitled The Critic, depicts a disdainful onlooker checking out two ornately dressed women on their way to the opera. A touching photograph from c. 1944 shows two animal caretakers sleeping next to a pen with two giraffes at Madison Square Garden.
Arthur Fellig (1899-1968) was born in the town of Lemburg (now in Ukraine) and first worked as a photographer at age 14, three years after his family immigrated to the United States, where his first name was changed from Usher to the more American-sounding Arthur. Self-taught, he held many photography-related jobs before gaining regular employment at a photography studio in lower Manhattan in 1918. By 1935, he was working as a freelance news photographer, centering his activity around police headquarters. In 1938, he obtained permission to install a police radio in his car, which enabled him to take the first and most sensational photographs of news events and offer them for sale to publications such as the Herald-Tribune, Daily News, Post, the Sun, and PM Weekly, among others.
During the 1940s, Weegee's photographs appeared outside the mainstream press and met success there as well. New York's Photo League held an exhibition of his work in 1941, and the Museum of Modern Art began collecting his work and exhibited it in 1943. Weegee published his photographs in several books, including Naked City, 1945, Weegee's People, 1946, and Naked Hollywood, 1953. After moving to Hollywood in 1947, he devoted most of his energy to making 16-millimeter films and photographs for his Distortions series, a project that resulted in experimental portraits of celebrities and political figures. He returned to New York in 1952 and lectured and wrote about photography until his death. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and International Center of Photography, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
WEEGEE will be on view at HGG2, and runs concurrently with Alex Majoli: SKĒNĒ, in the main gallery. Majoli’s first New York gallery show documents the thin line between reality and theatre, and his work, like Weegee’s, is known for its nocturnal aspects.