Woozy

Daniel Soar

Weegee, aka Arthur or Usher Fellig, invented a certain kind of photography. His pictures of New York street life – crime scenes, car wrecks, society girls, circus freaks, racegoers, rough sleepers, fire victims – were intimate and direct. He used a 4x5 Speed Graphic camera, preset for instant shooting to 1/200th of a second at f16 with a focal distance of ten feet. He got right up close to his subjects’ faces – whether they were alive or dead, or had handkerchiefs clutched to them to evade the intruding lens. He worked mostly by night and, from the late 1930s, had a police-band shortwave radio fitted in his car and used the trunk as a makeshift darkroom. The uncanny speed with which he arrived at a murder scene – he often got there before the cops did – earned him his nickname from the girls on the picture desks: he was Ouija, or Weegee; he had special access to the dead.

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