Saturday, July 04, 2015

Weegee and Brassaï: Two great night shooters

First of all, Happy Fourth of July, because you don't have to be American to enjoy good fireworks. The photo above is a bit of Thursday's pyrotechnics in South Philadelphia.

Second, here's my newest book, arrived in the mail yesterday. Weegee is the most famous of crime photographers, and his work continues to appear on crime novel covers and at least one Noir at the Bar poster to this day.

Two initial observations: Weegee (pseudonym of Arthur Fellig, b. 1899, d. 1968) apparently wrote his own copy to accompany the photographs in Naked City, the 1945 collection that made his name. The writing is rough, vigorous, and at times melodramatic, just like the American movies of the 1940s that would later be called film noir.  And it's a hell of a lot more refreshing than the elevated twaddle that museum curators, art critics, and artists themselves often use.

I also liked the simplicity of Weegee's photographic technique, as outlined in the book's final chapter, called "Camera Tips."  His exposure time, he says, was always 1/200 of a second. He always shot with a flash bulb. He always used the same aperture, except for close-ups, when he stepped it down by half. And those apertures were small, which allowed maximum depth of field. That means he was ready for anything, that he let his camera serve him rather than vice versa.  This is a book I will read as well as look at.

By Weegee
By Brassaï
The Wikipedia entry on Weegee says he "can be seen as the American counterpart to Brassaï, the 20th-century photographer famous for his nighttime photographs of Paris. I bought a book of Brassaï's work earlier this week, and I'd never have made the connection. But Wiki could be right.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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