The Best Photographers Go to Heaven

Although Weegee was brilliant at incorporating words, mostly street signs, in his photographs (Simply Add Boiling Water, Joy of Living, On the Spot, Smiling Irishman, 10 Shots, U.S. Hotel, Hot Tamales, etc.) I think this image, The Best People Go to Heaven, is a rare and skillful composite of two negatives:


Weegee, The Best People Go to Heaven, ca. 1944
First image with small depth-of-field; the background is out of focus.


A second image, the word heaven is written in white paint or ink; the background is still out-of-focus.


Possibly a composite of two negatives; the foreground and background are in focus. There are remnants of the second image: a car top, etc. in the upper right corner.


Final image with car top and other things air-brushed out.


Weegee, Naked City, 1945, pp. 92-93

Final printed version, with surprisingly large depth-of-field, the foreground and the background are in focus. In the background the word “HEAVEN” hovers above the scene.

The text of Naked City is more vaudeville than noir. Even if the truth was stretched a little in this photo, with Heaven in or out-of-focus, it’s still a bizarre and cinematic moment, as Weegee’s lyrical text conveys:

The two-page chapter in Naked City:

The Best People Go To Heaven
It was a fashionable society funeral. The obituary had received almost a whole column in the New York Times. It was just like opening night at the opera… A mob of spectators stood on the sidewalk, watching and listening to the beautiful organ music coming from the church…
The uniformed chauffeurs and professional pallbearers were grouped in a huddle on the steps of the church… they were bored and kept asking what time it was… hoping they would get it over with, as they had some bets to place on the day’s races with their bookies…
Across the street from the church, delivery men were bringing in baskets of chopped meat to Hamburger Heaven for the dinner rush; the group on the steps broke up with the pallbearers and the chauffeurs hiding their racing forms and scratch sheets inside their coats. Then the casket came down the steps and was placed hurriedly inside the hearse. An auto driving by stopped to watch… “Oh, what a beautiful morning” was coming out of the radio, sung by a tenor with a pansy voice. Somehow the car got sandwiched in with the funeral procession and they all made a turn up Fifth Avenue.

Notes: Oklahoma, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical played at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street, from March 1943 to May 1948. Weegee took a number of photos, (notably a series of a female model dressed almost like a flight attendant) in front of Hamburg Heaven, 1938-65, a restaurant on East 51st Street, in Manhattan, across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


On the steps of St. Patrick’s, where the original photo was made, (at a f/3.8 and 1/15 of a second exposure, there is not enough depth of field for the signs on the opposite side of the street to be in focus), 1/2009


The Google street view of the location where the original photo was made.

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3 Responses to The Best Photographers Go to Heaven

  1. Darren says:

    Hi Chris.
    I love this article. Photo manipulation really was an artform back then and requires a skilled hand. I get the feeling Weegee would have loved Photoshop!
    Cheers
    Darren

  2. arf says:

    i love this!

    cheers,
    arf

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