Weegee (born Arthur Fellig) (American, b. Poland, 1899-1968)
Max Is Rushing in the Bagels to a Restaurant on Second Avenue for the Morning Trade, c. 1940
- Gelatin silver print
- 14 3/4 x 18 7/8 in. (37.5 x 48 cm)
- The Jewish Museum, New York
- Purchase: Joan B. and Richard L. Barovick Family Foundation and Bunny and Jim Weinberg Gifts, 2000-72
- © Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images
Not on view
Calling his protagonist by his first name, Weegee alludes to a camaraderie with the workers with whom he regularly shared the deserted streets in the dead of night and the early hours of the morning. He captures Max mid-step as he looks and moves self-assuredly toward the fleeting glare of the photographer’s flash. Weegee’s flash, which he called his "Aladdin’s lamp," allowed him to achieve his "Rembrandt light." This is the term he used to describe the way his glowing figures emerge from the darkness. Although the street is shrouded in blackness and the cement squares on the ground are obscured by enigmatic shadows and grime, Weegee creates a sense of place with the silhouette of a lamppost in the background.
Arthur Fellig was born Usher Fellig on June 12, 1899, in the Austrian village of Zloczew. In 1910, he arrived at Ellis Island with his mother and brothers, joining his father who had immigrated earlier. It was at Ellis Island that his name was changed from Usher to Arthur. The transformation to Weegee would come later.
Fellig’s family settled on New York’s Lower East Side, living in tenements and struggling to get by. He left school in the eighth grade, working a variety of odd jobs to earn money for the family. At age eighteen, he left home, taking a circuitous route to becoming the renowned photographer Weegee.
As a photographer, Weegee captured the many realms of New York City in vivid, sharp detail. His work often illuminates the seedier side of city life. Weegee probably earned his nickname from his almost supernatural "ouija"-like ability to arrive at crime scenes and take pictures before the police arrived. The police radios in his car and next to his bed certainly helped as well.
Weegee joined the Photo League in 1941. He had his first exhibition, Weegee: Murder Is My Business, at the League in that same year. He lectured, taught, and judged Photo Hunts—competitions in which Leaguers scoured the city to complete random, sometimes ludicrous, yet legendary, assignments.