Weegee (Arthur Fellig)
'Arrested for Bribing Basketball Players'
1942, printed 1985
Museum no. PH.60-1986
This photograph was taken during the period when Weegee was nightly using the police radio to be present at the scenes of New York crimes. In many of Weegee's photographs of such scenes, the characters do not acknowledge Weegee and his camera and it is as if the chaos of the scene absorbs them. In this photograph, however, it is likely that the men shield their faces from Weegee and the camera. The men are backed up against a wall. Possibly Weegee has cropped the image to emphasise the sense of the men being trapped in a corner.
Born Arthur Fellig in Austria in 1899, Weegee emigrated to America (where his father was already living) aged ten. He left school at 14 and after a few casual jobs began his photographic career as a tintype (or ferrotype) street photographer. In his mid-twenties he became a darkroom assistant at the Acme News Services, developing and printing New York's news photographs. He worked at Acme for 12 years, learning what types of images were newsworthy and the visual trends of reportage photography. At the age of 36 he became a freelance photographer.
In 1937 Weegee bought a car, received a press card and was granted a short-wave police radio. Weegee was the only person in New York outside of the police force who was given access to their radio frequency.
This enabled him to be the first photographer at the scene of a crime, sometimes arriving before the police. Serious urban crimes usually took place during the night (when most salaried photographers would not be working) and Weegee was famous for sleeping in his clothes, ready to rush out to the latest scene of crime. He was said to have photographed a murder every night for over ten years.
Weegee's name was derived from the Ouija board because of his ability to seem to know where the news would occur before anyone else. By the mid 1940s Weegee had a reputation not only as an almost fanatical reportage photographer, but also as a great photographer, producing images that had a resounding quality which transcended the temporary or throw-away status of the newspaper image.
Weegee published his first book of photographs in 1945, entitled 'Naked City', and it led to further critical acclaim and commissions from 'glossy' magazines such as Vogue. He sold the film rights to 'Naked City' in 1953. During this period Weegee was experimenting with image manipulation using lenses which distorted the image. Distortion allowed Weegee to project how he felt onto images of, for example, politicians and celebrities, rather than capturing the emotions of the people represented. He died in 1968.
This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 13b.