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Ascher Fellig, later Usher Fellig and then anglicized Arthur Fellig and better known by the pseudonym Weegee, born June 12, 1899 in Złoczów, Galicia, and died December 26, 1968 in New York City, was an American photographer and photojournalist famous for his black-and-white photographs of nightlife, especially that of his favorite city, New York.

First steps

Ascher Fellig (whose first name would become Usher) was born in 1899 in Złoczów in Galicia, a small town (Shtetl) on the road from Lviv to Ternopil, near Lemberg, in an area that was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and today in western Ukraine.

In 1910, his family joined Bernard Fellig, the father, who had immigrated to the United States shortly after Ascher's birth. Upon his arrival at Ellis Island, the boy's name was changed to Arthur. His father, a rabbi, survives with his wife, Arthur, and three brothers in New York's destitute Jewish neighborhood of the Lower East Side. In 1914, while still in the eighth grade, Arthur left school to support his family financially through numerous odd jobs (car salesman, candy maker, etc.).

One day, he is taken in the street by a travelling photographer. This encounter would be the trigger that made him choose photography as a profession. The young man buys a second-hand camera and starts taking pictures of children in their Sunday best to offer the prints to wealthy families.

In 1917, he decided to leave the family home because he refused the intransigent Judaism advocated by his father. During this period, Weegee wandered from one shelter to another, looking for a warm place to sleep.

Professional career

In 1918, after many attempts, Weegee obtained a job at the Ducket & Adler photographic studio. This new job allowed him to spend his time in the laboratory and learn the techniques of printing.

In 1923, at the age of 24, he was hired as a laboratory assistant by the ACME Newspictures agency, whose business was to stock photographs for the daily press in many American states. Weegee worked on the development of the negatives of many photographers and, in case of emergency or unavailability of one of them, covered himself the urban events of New York.

After a few years, the agency offers him to become a full-time photographer. Weegee accepts but does not appreciate that his photographs become the property of ACME Newspictures and that his name is never associated with the photos he takes. He will always keep a typewriter in the trunk of his Chevrolet to sign his photographs immediately. He cannot stand not being the sole owner of his work.

From this period of his life, he would have inherited his nickname of photographer. The origin of his pseudonym is uncertain.

During his employment at Acme Newspictures, his skill and ingenuity in developing prints on the fly (for example, on a subway train) earned him the name "Mr. Squeegee." But Weegee could be a reference to the Ouija board game of communicating with the spirits of the dead, because to the female staff of ACME Newspictures, the photographer gave the impression of knowing in advance when and where interesting events were going to take place. There was a simple reason for this: Weegee had a radio in his car that was tuned to police frequencies, so he was warned at the same time as the police when something dramatic happened somewhere.

In 1935, Weegee finally became an independent photographer and worked for the American press.

At that time in the United States, the press demanded more than a simple documentary approach from photographers. Photojournalism was charged with capturing the reality of American society, as close to the events as possible, both the most newsworthy and the most prosaic. The photographic work must reveal the multiple aspects of American life by bringing back images of different places and cultural environments (nightlife, political meetings, popular milieu, etc.). This function allows the emancipation of the professional and independent figure of the photographer, and to link his activity closely to journalism. He writes:

"In my particular case, I didn't wait for someone to give me a job or anything like that, I went out and created a job for myself - freelance photographer. And what I did, anyone else can do. What I did was simply this: I went to Manhattan Police Headquarters and for two years I worked without a police card or any kind of identifying information. When a story came through a police teletype, I went there. The idea was to sell the pictures to the newspapers. And naturally, I would pick a story that meant something."

Weegee's favorite terrain is New York, and especially its nightlife, in its emblematic places (cabaret, restaurant, nightclub, Metropolitan Opera...), and in its sordid or tragic incidents (crimes, accidents, drownings, fires...). The art of the photographer consists, according to his own expression, to "show how much, in a city of ten million inhabitants, people live in complete solitude".

At first, Weegee begins his nightly outings around midnight by going to the Manhattan police station. He waits for the news to reach the police transcribers, then goes to the scene of the events to photograph. Condemned by this method to always arrive too late, Weegee buys a car (Chevrolet Chevy Coupe), a portable shortwave radio and a press card in order to make the most of his relationships with the police and gain autonomy.

In 1938, "Weegee the Famous" was indeed the first and only photographer to have the privilege of being connected to the police radio. This device allowed him to arrive at the scene of crimes, accidents, fires, suicides, at the same time as the police officers, or even before them. His crackling flashes capture scenes that are still hot, where the traces left behind are not cleaned up and returned to a certain normality of everyday life by the work of the police; blood flows on the pavement, the weapons of crime litter the ground, smoke fills the atmosphere of the streets, steering wheels are still in the hands of the accident victims, shoes still under the wheels, emotional shocks are imprinted on the photographs. He says he tries to "humanize the story".

For 5 dollars an event, Weegee spends his nights in his car and sleeps anywhere to be responsive to events. The layout of his car is meticulously studied. It houses a photographic laboratory in the trunk, numerous cameras preloaded with plates, as well as a stock of flash bulbs and a typewriter to sign his photos. To keep up with the hectic pace of the night, Weegee also has salami, a bottle of coke, a box full of cigars and a spare suit. The photographer dresses in loose-fitting clothes with lots of zippered pockets to carry the essentials of his gear and avoid misplacing the various components of his camera. Weegee considers his car and all his professional equipment as his "wings". As far as his equipment is concerned, Weegee is very faithful. He most often uses a Speed Graphic 4x5 with a f

His night usually ends when, once the plates are developed, he goes to the various newspaper offices before six o'clock in the morning, so that his prints can be in the first editions of the day. This way of working gives him a certain freedom and autonomy in the choice of his photographs and subjects. His main clients are, among others, Herald Tribune, The Daily Mirror, New York Daily News, Life, Vogue, Sun.

Through this autonomy, Weegee helped illuminate a most overlooked facet of American society during the Great Depression of the interwar years. New York was becoming increasingly crowded, summers were hot, winters were cold, jobs were scarce and crime was on the rise. These outlines are not a rewriting of American history but themes informed by Weegee's work. Taking a liking to the underprivileged and the hobos who set up shelters of misery and live in slums, Weegee likes to say that he has no inhibitions, and neither does his camera.

Weegee believes only in the snapshot and the recording of dramatic scenes still hot from everyday life. He photographs victims, perpetrators, police officers, witnesses and passers-by, thus recreating a fresco of everyday scenes that highlight the smoothness of the American dream. This reading of Weegee's work is not at odds with the photographic work of the time. On the contrary, he participates in the birth of a photojournalism that aims to be as close as possible to reality and does everything possible to fulfill its mission. While other photographers were subsidized by national programs aimed at visually recording the living conditions of Americans (desertified countryside, factory workers, etc.), Weegee favored an autonomy that allowed him to choose his photographic subjects, which received a strong media response from newspaper editors.

Over the course of his career, Weegee became an ambiguous figure, with diverse personalities and often criticized by some as a voyeur who photographed the misfortunes of his fellow citizens. As proof of this ambiguity, some consider him to be one of the precursors of sensationalist tabloid photography, while at the same time he received artistic recognition for his work from official institutions (Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1943). The ambiguity also stems from the place that Weegee gives to death, its surroundings, conditions and effects, as evidenced by one of the first exhibitions of his photographs, organized by the local Photo League in 1941, Murder is my Business.

In 1957, after developing diabetes, he moved in with Wilma Wilcox, a Quaker social worker he had known since the 1940s, who took care of him and then took care of his work.

In 1959 he was invited to lecture tours in the Soviet Union, he also worked in France, England and Belgium but finally returned to his home city of New York where he ended his life.

In 1962, Weegee played the lead in an exploitation film Nudie Cutie, intended to be a pseudo-documentary of his life. Dubbed "The Unlikely" Mr. Wee Gee, it shows Fellig apparently falling in love with a storefront mannequin whom he follows to Paris, while pursuing or photographing various women.

Weegee died on December 26, 1968 from complications related to a brain tumor.

Related activities and popular culture

Weegee was also involved in 16mm filming. From 1946 to 1960, he worked in Hollywood as an actor and technical advisor on crime films. He also appeared in the credits of Stanley Kubrick's film, Doctor Strangelove, where the accent used by Peter Sellers to play the main character is said to be directly inspired by Weegee's accent. In Howard Franklin's 1992 film The Public Eye, Joe Pesci plays a photographer who works while tuned into the police radio. This character is directly inspired by Weegee's life.

In the 1960s, Weegee traveled throughout Europe and experimented with different photographic formats (panoramic, distortions) and genres (nude photos), notably for the Daily Mirror. Andy Warhol says he was influenced by Weegee's work but he mainly refers to his work during the 1930s.

The cover of the 1990 album Listen without Prejudice, Vol. 1, by British singer George Michael, is a 1940 photograph by Weegee.

According to director Dario Argento, the photographer played by Harvey Keitel in his 1990 segment of Two Evil Eyes was inspired by Weegee.

The 1999 episode of The X-Files, Tithonus, involved an "Alfred Fellig" being investigated for photographing crime scenes before the emergency services arrived.

The 2014 film Nightcrawler was also inspired by Weegee.


  1. Weegee
  2. Weegee
  3. « https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/collections/weegee-archive-selections » (consulté le 4 mars 2018)
  4. Sur le dos de ses photographies, Arthur Fellig notait « Credit Photo by Weegee the Famous ». Ce pseudonyme est aujourd’hui le nom sous lequel le photographe est connu à travers le monde.
  5. Kosner, Edward (6 décembre 2018). "Coups dans le noir". La revue de New York des livres . 65(19): 44–45.
  6. ^ Hudson, Berkley (2009). Sterling, Christopher H. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Journalism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. pp. 1060–67. ISBN 978-0-7619-2957-4.
  7. ^ Weegee's autobiography
  8. ^ Cohen, Daniel (2000). Yellow Journalism. Twenty-First Century Books. p. 77. ISBN 0761315020.
  9. «Peter Hujar» (em inglês). Maureen Paley. Consultado em 6 de setembro de 2014. Arquivado do original em 4 de novembro de 2014
  10. ^ a b New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce; Essential Books
  11. ^ New York: Pellegrini and Cudahy
  12. ^ Garden City, New York: Hanover House
  13. ^ New York: Ziff-Davis

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