Saturday, November 30, 2013

The City at Night (New York)

Becket, November 30, 2013

"I got up 9 o'clock one night and I says to myself "I'm gonna take a nice little ride and work up an appetite."" (Weegee, in "Famous Photographers Tell How", 1958)

Few people have a better sense of life in the city at night than crime reporters (yes, I know, I should say life... and death.) And in the New York of the 30s and 40s there was nobody better at that than Arthur Fellig, a self-taught photographer known as Weegee. He chased after the reports coming out of the police teletype, made the pictures and sold them to the newspapers in time for the morning edition. But he was much more than a crime photographer. He captured in his images the whole urban drama of a moment.

For one of his most famous pictures, aptly titled "Balcony seats at a murder", Weegee arrives on the night of November 16, 1939 to Prince Street in Lower Manhattan, where a man has just been shot in front of a coffee shop. He takes the picture of the murder scene, but the photograph shows much more than the dead body laying on the doorway. It includes the patrons of the coffee shop on the sidewalk, the people of the tenements on the windowsills above, the children on the fire stairs. Weegee is absolutely deliberate: "I stepped back all the way about a hundred feet..."

And he turned the city into a theater.

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