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The Pope of the Paparazzi

by John Maguire
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One of the advantages of the internet is that on a winter’s day, you can navigate all around the world and visit the finest art establishments, without even leaving the house. Today in Blighty the wind is howling like a possessed hound. So let’s visit NYC.

Liverpool has its Shakeshaft, Paris its Brassai and New York has Weegee, a self-styled showman who created a pulp fictitious persona, the father of tabloid culture. He would boldly proclaim,

My name is Weegee. I’m the world’s greatest photographer.

Born Arthur Fellig in 1899, the photographer was nicknamed Weegee by the office girls in Acme Newspapers – after the Ouija board – for he had an uncanny way of always arriving at the scene to capture a moment. Weegee helped to found the tabloid culture that is still apparent today. His images capture humans at their most vulnerable and bare. Photography that produces compositions that incite emotion based on the subject matter alone. Sensationalist and sensual, an acute portrayal of human nature. From two lovers embracing, to a burning building, all of his images transport the viewer into the very heart of the experience.

The summer heat in a New York apartment, forcing the residents to sleep on the fire escape, radiates from the picture. You can practically smell the perfumery of two old broads, all war paint and fur, out to enjoy an evening in the city, whilst one onlooker’s envy cannot be hidden.

Never officially trained, he used the darkroom of Acme Newspictures as his university, honing his craft and training his eye whilst working on other people’s images. His pictures of New York and her people are like a carnival of the Electric Jungle. The book Naked City (1945) went on to be exhibited in Museum of Modern Art and helped to shape urban American consciousness.

In his book Weegee on Weegee, the artist frankly lays down the passion for his craft, a love for New York and its people,

My camera… my life and my love… was my Aladdin’s lamp.

His catalogue of work is like a visual love letter between him and the city, a composition of magic.

I had so many unsold murder pictures lying around my room…I felt as if I were renting out a wing of the City Morgue.

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