After loving and reading about the work of Ed Van Der Elsken I learnt that he was greatly inspired by the work of Weegee. As I loved Van Der Elsken's work so much I had to look at Weegee's and honestly I cannot believe I had never heard of him also as his work is just brilliant.
Weegee was the pseudonym used by Austrian photographer and photojournalist Arthur Fellig. His most prolific work was produced in the late 1930s and 40s of the people of New York. His work as a photojournalist specialised in photographing accidents and crime scenes, and his method for this was through listening to police communications on his portable police-band shortwave radio. So that he would be the first photographer on the scenes.
To begin my research I looked through Weegee's first book Naked City, which when published was an instant success. It includes his crime scene photographs with his own comments alongside describing some of the events. It also features other photographs taken of the people of New York such as crowds at Coney Island, lovers on the beach and high society members at the opera. It is clear when reading this book that Weegee is in love with New York, and I think this is what makes his photographs of the city so special. That he was completely immersed within the workings of his city and he had it firmly under his grasp. His commitment was incredible the way he would obsessively listen to police communications and eagerly photograph the city at all hours, capturing copious walks of life. It is obvious that this approach very much inspired the approach Ed Van Der Elsken took in photographing the post war Parisian Bohemians in his photographs.
"News photography teaches you to think fast, to be sure of yourself, self confidence. When you go out on a story, you don’t go back for another sitting. You gotta get it.” - Weegee
When reading Naked City I found the chapter called Murders particularly moving. Despite using his characteristically blinding flash bulb for these photographs of corpses and crime scene onlookers, Weegee captured sensitively how people dealt collectively with these criminal exploitations of the human condition. What he conveys powerfully is that despite how hardened a big city like New York may seem, when these tragedies of the human condition do occur what we are left with is pure helplessness. No matter what systems are in place to manage these kinds of circumstances. What is clear in these photographs of the people observing these crime scenes together is that they are in fact no longer together, as people deal with these horrific circumstances visibly in such different ways.
Weegee's photographs in general are very much intimate pieces even when filled with people. The closeness in terms of proximity to where Weegee positioned himself in front of his subjects and the bright flash bulb creates this intimacy in his images. As it catches people in a way where they cannot hide themselves. In his crime scene photographs especially it is clear that Weegee finds beauty in his often raw subject matter, even if that beauty isn't appreciated by those who view his photographs. I think that beauty to Weegee is when people are at their most exposed, showing only what is true of them in those moments. This is demonstrated well in his crime scene photographs as I imagine many wouldn't see these photographs as particularly beautiful works of art because the subject matter is very distressing. However Weegee loved his city and the people who inhabited it, he was a humanist photographer who was eager to capture all of faculties of human life, because human life excited him.
A series of Weegee's photographs that also interested me is titled 'Movie Theatres' and consists of photographs taken inside cinemas of people watching films. This subject matter really interests me because there are so many different kinds of relationships bunched into these settings. People bring their close friends, lovers and families to sit in a room with strangers and watch a film. The variety of social dynamics in these dark spaces is really interesting to view through Weegee's infrared camera images, which captured his subjects unposed in these packed spaces.
What I think is really special in looking at these photographs today is that nothing has really changed since the 1940s. We still go to cinemas in this way to disappear into a film for a few hours. Even though many of these images are quite blurry and the composition isn't always brilliant, these candid photographs are so evocative of how these people were with each other and themselves. Which makes them particularly potent and intimate to peer into as a viewer.
"Here's my formula - dealing as I do with human beings, and I find them wonderful: I leave them alone and let them be themselves - holding hands with love-light in their eyes-sleeping-or merely walking down the street. The trick is to be where the people are. One doesn't need a scenario or shooting script, all one needs to do is to be on the spot, alert and human. One never knows what will happen." - Weegee
Reading about Weegee's philosophy and approach to his work has been really inspiring to me in terms of my own thoughts and ideas, in approaching the subject matter of relationships with my own photography. Because Weegee was a freelance photographer he really had to work to get shots that he could sell to newspapers. What this has taught me about photojournalism in particular is just how important the decisive moment is as time is so fleeting. Particularly during the kinds of events Weegee photographed such as crime scenes and fires. Scenes like these will only happen once so you need to be there and ready to get those shots when the situation arises.
This has made me think a lot more about the kinds of opportunities I will be able to get to take candid photographs like this. Weegee's work was so incredible because he had such a strong eagerness and commitment to photographing his subject matter, that he would be up at any hours necessary to do it. His work has also made me realise that nowhere is too boring to photograph and even though Weegee was in the cultural oasis of New York he still went and found his own opportunities to make interesting photographs. Even when photographing events where there were lots of photographers he would always try to photograph something less obvious that no one else would be shooting.
Looking at Weegee's work has inspired me to broaden my thoughts a lot more with my potential subject matter for this project, and also to start shooting whenever I can. My main issue last term I felt was that I was being reserved with my photography for a lot of reasons, but now I think I need to push myself a lot more because it's going to give me a lot more room for development.