By Natalia Balcerzak
New York City was an urban mayhem with a never-ending array of poker games, mafias and murders. These dramatic scenes of the city that never sleeps were captured and have been revived in the Weegee: Murder Is My Business exhibit at the Ryerson Image Centre’s (RIC).
Freelance photojournalist Weegee (Arthur Fellig) became a legendary figure in journalism as he created the most sensational and graphic images of life after dark. Working in New York City from 1936 to 1947, he specialized in flash photography and illuminated the tragedies with an artificial light, producing graphic high-contrast images.
“For photojournalism at the time, it was the beginning of life, it was the beginning of state-major agencies,” said RIC exhibitions curator Goëlle Morel. “He was working in a lower status of the industry — it was just interesting because he’s just this character that came from no where.”
Starting from the bottom of the industry as a poor immigrant, Weegee made his career by making murder his business. Working exclusively at night, he had set up a small apartment across from the police headquarters and listened to news of new crime on his police-band radio receiver.
Anytime chaos hit, he was first on the scene and was already positioning himself to discover the best angle for his photographs. Weegee was nicknamed from the play on the word, “Ouija”, as many people believed he was able to foresee the future by showing up before anyone else did.
Weegee thrived in this unusual business as he didn’t shy from low-culture settings and documented key moments of the depression era – with an exaggerated claim of covering 5000 murders. He managed to develop a close connection with the people of the night by befriending both mafia members and regular folks.
“The first room is dedicated to the invention of himself but there are more layers to that, he could express one’s feeling to the victims through his photos,” said Morel.”He was also very warm and tender — expressing tenderness to his subjects and I think that’s something we tend to forget.”
The exhibit was brought to RIC from New York’s International Centre of Photography, curated by Brian Wallis. The archive is orchestrated not only through photographs and includes magazines, objects and media projections.
The exhibit will be on display until Dec. 13.