An exhibit of Weegee"s photographs proves that crime does pay
By Mark Peikert
In the pantheon of New Yorkers's Dorothy Parker, Andy Warhol, the Ramones's photographer Weegee may not be the first to spring to mind, but he may symbolize the contradictions of New York City better than anyone else. Driven, self-mythologizing and morbidly curious about the curiously morbid, Weegee spent a decade, from 1936 to 1947, chronicling the violence and urban beauty of life in the Big Apple.
Currently on display at the International Center of Photography, Weegee: Murder Is My Business (running through Sept. 2) collects some of the best of Weegee"s mostly nighttime work, from a body stuffed in a trunk to the crowds at Coney Island. What strikes the viewer almost immediately isn"t just the classic, violent aspects of these photos's bodies splayed awkwardly on sidewalks, pools of blood congealing's but the flipside, the almost embarrassingly sentimental glimpses at beachgoers or the melancholy of a Santa balloon being inflated for the Macy"s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
That Santa photograph is indicative of why Weegee"s work still exerts such a magnetic pull; these images are frozen in time, capturing a New York City that is long gone and still mourned (there are only a few stragglers surrounding that balloon, unlike the hordes who descend upon the Upper West Side the night before Thanksgiving now). From a distance, the gangland killings that Weegee followed so avidly thanks to his police scanner have a glamour that we can"t assign the random acts of violence we live through today.
What Murder Is My Business reveals, however, is that the famously gruesome Weegee wasn"t always interested in the details of the deaths he covered. Sometimes his photographs were of gawping onlookers, the body an indistinct detail. ICP has helpfully put these seemingly atypical shots in context, surrounding them with photos by police officers of the same scene that are more insistent on the corpse than Weegee"s. As it turns out, crime wasn"t necessarily Weegee"s business, but the business of capturing the filthy, rain-slicked city he loved in all its rubbernecking glory was.
For more of Weegee"s ceaselessly fascinating work, Chelsea"s Steven Kasher Gallery is holding its own exhibit, Weegee: Naked City, through Feb. 25 at 521 W. 23rd St.
Weegee: Murder Is My Business
ICP, 1133 6th Ave. (at 43rd St.), 212-857-0000, www.icp.org.
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