I’ve been influenced by Usher Fellig (aka Weegee the Famous). I had no idea. But I’m in good company from Diane Arbus to Cindy Sherman, and the rest of us. It’s hard to peel away the nostalgia from his photos from mid 20th century NYC, but as I try the feeling of intensity remains; as though one held a candle under humanity fluid and let it reduce.
Photographic creativity is unique in many ways but one in particular in which Weegee’s body of work describes well is it’s demand on speed. How many photos does one have to take before all the choices we make when pointing a camera happen faster than the subject is moving?
“I think about my camera all the time … There are photographic fanatics, just as there are religious fanatics. They buy a so-called candid camera … there are no such thing; it’s the photographer who has to be candid, not the camera.” – Weegee
The trigger finds emotion. I know from years of feeling subjects through a lens that the emotional moment is telepathic. Loud emotions are easy; it’s the quiet ones that lay demands on skills. It’s the empathy of the photographer that presses the button at exactly the right moment after finding the perfect composition dictated by circumstance.
“People are so wonderful that a photographer has only to wait for that breathless moment to capture what he wants on film.” – Weegee
“When you find yourself beginning to feel a bond between yourself and the people you photograph, when you laugh and cry with their laughter and tears, you will know you are on the right track.” – Weegee
Also easily captured are surface emotions, or non-emotions. Saying cheese is the best way to make sure a camera fails to reveal anything you own. We learn to say “cheese” early and often.
“Press agents, seeing my camera, pointed out notables to me, but I refused to
waste film or bulbs, as I don’t photograph society unless they have a fight and get arrested or they stand on their heads.” – Weegee
Finally, there is nothing like a life devoted to their art. A part time musician is just that – “part time”. A fine artist making it her day job or a commercial artist carving out a career is at a different level – they just are because they must. There art is front of mind all the time.
“I’m no part time dilettante photographer, unlike the bartenders, shoe salesmen, floorwalkers plumbers, barbers, grocery clerks and chiropractors whose great hobby is their camera. All their friends rave about what wonderful pictures they take. If they’re so good, why don’t they take pictures full—time, for a living, and make floor walking, chiropractics, etc., their hobby? But everyone wants to play it safe. They’re afraid to give up their pay checks and their security they might miss a meal.” – Weegee
Permission To Suck Manifesto Law #3. There’s NO plan “B”. Quit moonlighting. Put in the hours; work without a net. If you have a plan “B” it’s too easy to bail, and you’ll want to. Part timers can’t keep up with the guy who’s bustin’ it like a sex crazed school boy.
Weegee worked in the Lower East Side of New York City as a press photographer during the 30′s and 40′s, and he developed his signature style by following the city’s emergency services and documenting their activity. Much of his work depicted unflinchingly realistic scenes of urban life, crime, injury and death. Weegee published photographic books and also worked in cinema, initially making his own short films and later collaborating with film directors such as Jack Donohue and Stanley Kubrick.