Weegee Lives For His Work And Thinks Before Shooting
By Ralph Steiner
Many people have asked me to write a piece about Weegee, the free-lance crime photographer whose pictures and stories appear so often in PM.
It is hard to write anything less than a book about Weegee, but I can say something about why he is a great photographer, which he certainly is.
His greatness as a crime photographer grows out of three things: First, his willingness to live entirely for his work. Second, his ingenuity in carrying it out. Third, his very intelligent approach to a kind of material which other photographers treat in a routine manner. […]
Some photographers might say that Weegee’s success is solely because he is Johnny-on-the-spot, but that’s not so. Early in his career he discovered that most corpses and fires look pretty much alike. Now he looks first for the human element, for anything incongruous, for little points which may be more interesting and revealing than the main event.
And there is the all-important fact that Weegee, unlike the majority of photographers I have met, is a rich personality. You can’t squeeze blood from a stone; nor can an editor squeeze good pictures out of a stony photographer. Weegee moves in a world of violence, brutality, bloodshed and horror, but the pictures he brings up out of it do not depend entirely on the drama of the event. They are good because Weegee adds a little of himself, and a little of Weegee is really something. […]
Weegee, Weegee and Renee Parsons, First Prize Winner at Art Students League Ball at Roosevelt Hotel, March 1941 (20141.1993)
Weegee’s Comment On His Craft:
“Most photographers always use the same old methods. We’ll assume that a horse-drawn wagon is going over the Williamsburg Bridge. A car hits it and the driver is tossed into the water and gets killed. The other photographers will take a picture of the bridge and then have an artist draw a diagram showing how the guy fell into the water. What I do is go and see what happened to the poor old horse.
“News photographers should not act like they are in the movies. Everyone will be co-operative if you just show a little consideration.”
“When I take a picture of a fire, I forget all about the burning building and I go out to the human element. If I see a woman standing by a fire engine and crying, it’s much better than a picture of the building. The building is just a spectacle.”
“When a crowd sees a camera they all turn around and say: ‘Go ahead and take the picture, Mister. What paper will it be in and what page will it be on?’ People always think a photographer knows what page a picture will be on. I say ‘Forget about the camera. Editors don’t like posey pictures.’ And I set my camera down. Pretty soon they get bored waiting for the picture and start watching the action. Then I take my picture.”
“One time one of the newspapers assigned me to a three-alarm fire. […] I came back with a picture of a monster whale that had drifted into Sheepshead Bay. I got the whale picture exclusive.
“A photographer should have confidence in himself and if he gets a good idea he should go take it, even if everybody laughs at him.”
PM, March 9, 1941 , pp. 48-51
Weegee was born 120 years ago today, June 12, 1899.
Weegee (1899-1968), Famous Photographers Tell How, Candid Recordings, 1958.