Behind these thoughts are the reasons why, after forty years as a photographer, I am still constantly striving for new techniques.
Many photographers style themselves “purists.” I think “traditionalists” is a better term. They feel that “pure” photography can only come from the camera as we know it. Every experiment, every effort at a device, a change, is to them a trick or a gimmick. They are afraid of gimmicks. I do not have this fear. The real inspiration is the idea, the imagination. Whatever stimulates the imagination I consider a healthy sign. Sometimes the first step to express such imagination is a trick or a gimmick. Call it the exploration of strange phenomena.
To me, photography itself is an illusion. Stieglitz, one of the greatest photographers, once told me, about taking pictures, “Something happens; it’s a fleeting part of a second. It’s up to the photographer to capture that on film. Because, once it’s gone, it’s like a dying day. It will never come back.” [A photo from that encounter, see PM, “Weegee meets a great man,” May 7, 1944, p. m3]
Benjamin Franklin performed an experiment with the home-fashioned instruments of a kite, kite string, and a key. Crude as his instruments were, they proved an important principle.
What I mean by all of this is: do not be afraid to venture, to try out new ideas, no matter how trivial they seem. After all, there are sound scientific principles involved when you try out bits of material that bend, reflect, or refract light, or divide and distort images. The question then becomes: “How can I use such ideas and devices in interesting ways photographically.” Those same “traditionalists” are the ones who resort to the so-called tricks of the innovations after they have been developed – after they are no longer seen as tricks.
After four decades in photography I have created many unusual ideas and devices, or used those which have existed in a new or extraordinarily successful way. As a professional photographer, a man whose livelihood depended upon selling his photographs (although I have loved every minute of it), I guarded such ideas. I kept them secret. This kind of monopoly succeeded in giving me a fine income.
These are the techniques revealed in this book. I have collected, compiled, and detailed them here for the first time. I feel I have derived what I want to from them and I pass them on to others, as my slim legacy to the field of photography.
I wish to go on – in other directions, to even more fantastic ideas. One of them at present is the technique of animating a still photograph, making a subject move its eyes, change its features and its expression from laughter to sadness. [Hello GIFs] At present it costs many thousands of dollars to animate a commercial on television. I have been making excellent progress on a technique that would reduce this to a negligible sum.
I do not know how many other new ideas this will lead me to. I imagine that the photographer, amateur or professional, who studies this book and attempts the techniques described will be led into channels I never realized. By this, he or she will personally profit – and ultimately the field of photography, the art of photography, will profit.
It is with this thought that I dedicate the contents of Weegee’s Creative Camera.
Words from: Weegee with Roy Ald. Weegee’s Creative Camera. New York: Vista (Hanover) House, 1959, pp. 8-9
Weegee Wednesday is an occasional series exploring, or just enjoying, the life and work of Weegee.