Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Crime pictures at an exhibition

(Cop Killer, Weegee, negative, January 16, 1941; print, about 1950
© International Center of Photography)


I illustrated my "Crime songs" post with this photograph by Arthur Fellig, known as Weegee, and I've been unable to keep my eyes off the thing since. Now I invite you to join me in considering this striking image.

I suspect that some of you will notice the black and white first, then the haircut and coat of the detective at right and the downcast expression of the man in custody. Like me, you may be struck by how much this looks like a still from a film noir. Except it's not that; it's New York detectives in a police lineup room with a suspect in two real murders, one of a police officer.

Time and nostalgia have taken the edge off many movie images. Weegee's photo restores it.

Here's another photograph credited to Weegee that also resonates of the movies. I don't know when the photo was taken, but the woman has the look of a Hollywood star of the 1940s or '50s. I'm no fashion expert, but the suit of the man shielding his face looks as if it may date from the same time or a bit later.

But no Ava Garder or Rita Hayworth ever showed that much skin on screen, as far as I know. Once again, a photograph restores a gritty edge, an impression of reality, that time, nostalgia and, perhaps, censorship had removed. (I can't find date, copyright and ownership information for this photograph. Can anyone out there supply it?)

Here is a link to Weegee's work available for viewing online. Here's a short biography of the photographer. And here's an excerpt from a book to read as a warning against assuming too easily that photographs and reality are identical.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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12 Comments:

Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

His work is mesmerizing, isn't it? Likewise an exhibit of mugshots I saw in a NY gallery a few years ago.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Dana King said...

The woman is also a lot thinner than the classic Lana Turner-era beauties implied by the man's suit. A fascinating photograph.

I never appreciated photography as an art until I became friendly with a member of a writing group who is also a professional artistic photographer. Black and white photos such as these are ideal for creating a mood fr even contemporary crime fiction, where the glitz of color sometimes obscures the essentially dark motivation and results of the crime.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Patti, I'd heard of Weegee, of course, but I'd never looked at his work until I found the photo I used for the "Crime songs" post. Now I think I'll go look for a book of his work at the library. And I'd love to see those mug shots. Do you remember which galery showed them?

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, yes, the woman is thinner, but the hair and the look of her face are very much of the Hollywood Golden Age, I think.

It's one thing when a book or a movie captures the feel of an era while at the same time restoring aspects missing from popular images of that era. L.A. Confidential did this, I think, both the book and the movie, and Megan Abbott, for one, likes to do this in her novels (and I'm not saying that just because her mother has just posted a comment here.)

But what Weegee does is offer documentary evidence that all those aspects missing from the popular images of an era were there all along. His work makes me reflect on the nature of these ideas we have of eras, of golden ages, of the Roaring Twenties, of the Greatest Generation and so on.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

The top photo is reminiscent of the scene when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, even though the latter took place 20-something years later. Google "ruby shoots oswald" and look at the images screen.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I know that photo well. The downcast expression here is similar to Oswald's grimace in that photo. And the rear view of Jack Ruby is like that of the detective on the right in this image.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

These are great. They remind me of the sleazy night scenes in Killer's Kiss.

Incidentally, the Art Institute of Chicago is a fantastic gallery that seems to get almost no attention outside of the city. Definitely worth a visit.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Samuel Fuller, is it not? I may go rent it this evening. Perhaps a glance at Weegee's documentary photos ought to be a prerequisite for any viewing of film noir.

I thought the Art Institute of Chicago got lots of attention. I've been there and seen the Edward Hoppers, on the subject of noirish artists.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Yeah, that photo captured an indelible moment. I saw it on live TV; like most Americans over the age of 10 (I was 13) I was glued to the television that weekend.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That photo is on one of several notable front pages displayed in the newsroom of the place where I work. I see it several times a week.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Good to know, love the AIC.

Killers Kiss is Kubrick. Its a good one too. The Killing gets all the attention but KK has a lot of beautiful NYC photography.

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I appear to have been thinking of The Naked Kiss. Maybe I'll visit the noir section at my local "video" store and pick myself up a pair of kisses.

July 23, 2008  

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