Friday, June 11, 2010

Arty Farty Friday ~ Weegee, photographer.

Back in the day - the long-gone day before the internet, cellphones, TV, and before access to images of world events - even neighbouring events, photographs were the only link people had with the world outside of their own small sphere. Back then photographers were key to keeping the information loom weaving. One such was Weegee, nickname of Arthur Fellig. He earned the nickname, derived from "ouija" (as in board) because he had a mystical magical way of always being in the right place at the right time ....for photographs of an accident, crime, event of note. Weegee didn't become arty-farty in its full sense until late in his career - see last few images in the string below.

Born in the area of Eastern Europe now called Ukraine (then part of Austria) he arrived in the USA with his parents in 1909. He spent his life in New York. From the 1930s to 1950s he photographed life and death in stark and striking photographs for tabloid newspapers.

Holland Cotter's excellent 2006 New York Times review of an exhibition of his photographs, "Unknown Weegee", gives a good sense of who Weegee was, the times and the place. An extract:
His story is the story of a Jewish kid, son of a rabbi, who came with his family from Europe to New York City. Independent-minded, he noodled around, did the odd job, hit the flophouses. Then he discovered photography, and he became a man with a mission. Make that obsession. Scratch that: addiction.

A freelancer by temperament, he had long-term gigs with The Daily News, The Daily Mirror and the left-leaning daily PM. His beat was the inner city, and everything was raw material: the good and the bad, but mostly the bad. He liked nights because he had the photographic turf to himself but also because the best bad things happen at night, under the cover of darkness. Vandals make their mark; hit men practice their trade; people get crazy.

Like a boy scout, he was always prepared. He prowled the streets in a car equipped with a police radio, a typewriter, developing equipment, a supply of cigars and a change of underwear. He was a one-man photo factory: he drove to a crime site; took pictures; developed the film, using the trunk as a darkroom; and delivered the prints.

He often finished a job before the cops had cleared the scene, in some cases before they even arrived. About certain things he was clairvoyant. (Weegee = Ouija, as in board. Get it?) He caught catastrophes in the making and filmed them unfolding. An opportunist? A sensationalist? A voyeur? You could call him all that. He wouldn't mind. "Just get the name right. Weegee the Famous."

He was in the right place at the right time. New York from the Depression through World War II was a rude, crude town. No heat in winter, way too much in the summer. Immigrants poured in; there was barely enough room to hold them. Native-born workers felt the competition for jobs and space, resented it. The melting pot was on a constant boil.

Weegee was aware of social problems. This is one of the points the show makes. A congenital, unradical leftist, he gave his work a deliberate political slant. He documented segregation and racial-bias attacks. In one 1951 photo, he shows a black woman holding aloft a piece of paper with a picture of a gun. The paper was actually a coupon to win free admission to a new Randolph Scott movie called "Colt 45." But at some point Weegee pinned a "Black Power" button to the print to give it a pointed meaning.

The politics that really made him tick, though, were populist. He knew what Americans wanted, because he wanted it too. Sentimentality: cops holding kittens, lost kids crying. Zaniness: people dressed up as Martians, things like that. He was drawn to glamour, though not the social register stuff. That he despised. He loved to embarrass the rich, make them look like freaks.

(Weegee's 1945 book, "Naked City," was the basis for a Hollywood movie; he himself, quintessential New Yorker, appeared as an extra in films.)

12 noon chart shown below in the absence of a known birth time.

Oh, "I love it when a plan comes together!" (Apologies to The A-Team) Neptune rules (among other things) photography, and what do we have here? Sun conjunct Neptune.....also conjunct Mercury and Pluto. Mercury = communication, Pluto connects to all that is dark, death included. Weegee's photographs often depicted death and dark events and communicated them to the world.

Venus at 25 Taurus - the degree of Fixed Star Algol, the star known to astrologers as most unfortunate of all stars. Venus represents art - again we have a symbolic connection with art and unfortunate happenings.

Saturn in Sagittarius opposes his natal Sun and planet cluster in Gemini indicating a dynamic between business, expansion, publication (Saturn in Sagittarius) and Gemini's curiosity and restlessness.

Moon would be in Leo whatever time Weegee was born, and more than likely would be in harmonious trine to Uranus which could be translated as his rather rebellious attitude towards the status quo, and his concern about social problems of the day.

Arrested for bribing basketball players

On the fire escape

Coney Island

Summer 1937, Lower East Side



Wisewebwoman said...

Love this post, T. I've seen some of his work before - in a magazine article. Many New Yorkers despised his work because of the representation of the seedy realism of his work.
Extraordinary man - and joyful in his own way, never did lose the boy within.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Thanks. :-)
Yes, quite a character! He reminded me of someone out of a Damon Runyan story (I've always loved his characters).