Weegee: Murder Was His Business [HISTORY]

Posted on: June 30th, 2016 at 5:12 am by

This image has been archived or removed.

Facing the back of the old Police Headquarters

Picture Depression-era New York. Wait, you don’t have to because he took the pictures for you – Weegee a.k.a Usher Fellig. The man who earned his name based on an uncanny, clairvoyant-like ability to beat police to crime scenes…as if he knew…Ouija. He did, however, live across from the old police headquarters and owned a police scanner in his car and by his bed. So…

Weegee came to New York City from Austria in 1910 at the age of 11. By 1913, he left school and began work at Ducket & Adler photography (below, 60 Grand Street, once the Wintergarden Theatre). He continued on to the New York Times, Acme Newspapers and by 1935, Weegee was freelance. He stalked the city looking for murder scenes, thereby coining the phrase and making it his mantra, “Murder is my Business.”

This image has been archived or removed.

Courtesy of Walter Grutchfield

New York Times, June 9, 2006:

“Whadda you kidding? It’s a zoo out there. Two deli stickups at 12 on the dot; one of the perps getting plugged. I got the picture. Roulette joint bust on East 68th. Society types. You shoulda seen the penguins run. Three a.m.: Brooklyn. Car crash. Kids. Bad.”

“Four a.m., bars close. Guys asleep in Bowery doorways. But just before dawn is the worst: despair city. The jumpers start, out the windows, off the roof. I can’t even look. So that’s the night, New York. Ain’t it grand? What a life.”

This image has been archived or removed.

Murdered Husband with Wife in Tenement

This image has been archived or removed.

Dominick Didato dead on Elizabeth Street

New York’s Photo League held an exhibition of his work in 1941, and the Museum of Modern Art began collecting his work and exhibited it in 1943. Weegee published his photographs in several books, including Naked City (1945), Weegee’s People (1946), and Naked Hollywood (1953).

His widow later donated all of his work to the International Center for Photography which just opened at 250 Bowery on the Lower East Side.

This image has been archived or removed.

An installation view of Weegee Murder Is My Business

In a 2006 article entitled “Unknown Weegee, on Photographer Who Made The Night Noir,” New York Times reporter Holland Cotter described his technique.

‘He prowled the streets in a car equipped with a police radio, a typewriter, developing equipment, a supply of cigars and a change of underwear,’ Mr Cotter wrote, dubbing Weegee a ‘one-man photo factory’.

‘He drove to a crime site; took pictures; developed the film, using the trunk as a darkroom; and delivered the prints.’

This image has been archived or removed.
This image has been archived or removed.

His studio at 5 Centre Market Place:

This image has been archived or removed.

Weegee’s studio

This image has been archived or removed.

Weegee’s studio

When he wasn’t immersed fully in the macabre, Weegee had another side to him. The Lower East Side, to be exact:

This image has been archived or removed.
This image has been archived or removed.

By 1947, the gruesome murder and gore had taken its toil. Weegee took off for the Left Coast to become a paparazzo of sorts. He developed an affinity for distortion, his subjects running the gamut from the Queen to Doris Day:

This image has been archived or removed.

Queen Elizabeth

For more on those, go here.

Finally, we come to Weegee’s most “famous” photograph, “The Critic” (1943) and it was staged.  Weegee asked his assistant, Louie Liotta, to bring a Bowery bar patron to the season’s opening of the Metropolitan Opera.  After getting the woman drunk, they positioned her near the red carpet resulting in this:

This image has been archived or removed.

Below are more of his works including that from his art show. Enjoy and remember, the streets are watching…

This gallery has been removed.

As always, Ah, New York. My stunning and gritty, sparkling and filthy, tremendous, transcendent metropolis – you were forged by the keepers of secrets and those secrets I plan to find and reveal, one brick at a time.

Recent Stories

Time to Demand Cuomo and de Blasio Protect Workers and Small Businesses in Reopening Plan (OP-ED)

The following editorial was written by Zishun Ning of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The New York City and State governments are still failing to protect people’s health and livelihood after two months of “PAUSE.” The number of deaths and infections remain high. Patients with COVID-19 are still turned away, despite […]

Orchard Street Shop Continues Pushing Pencils During a Pandemic

Many independent neighborhood businesses have been impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown, including CW Pencil Enterprise. Established in 2014, the pencil purveyor of Orchard Street is feeling the pains of the pandemic and adjusting as best they can during. Owner Caroline Weaver explains how they’ve been trying to keep the business afloat. “Adapting to this new […]

Skateboarders Are Scaling the Fence at Coleman Skatepark, Flouting Shutdown

The brief, state-ordered hiatus from skateboarders grinding under the Manhattan Bridge has concluded. Though, not officially. Signs remain in place at many city playgrounds announcing full closure until further notice. Still not much of a deterrence, though. For instance, the popular Coleman Skatepark on Monroe Street. Skaters have begun scaling the fence of late, flouting […]

Clayton Patterson Gets the Graphic Novel Treatment

Prolific Lower East Side documentarian, Clayton Patterson, is getting his own biography. An illustrated one, at that. The colorful homage is curated by Julian Voloj, and features the work of eighteen artists paying tribute to Patterson’s life and works in graphic novel form. The anthology is aptly titled, Clayton: Godfather of Lower East Side Documentary. […]

Disaster Squared: Coronavirus and Hurricanes Poses Deadly Threat to Lower East Side [OP-ED]

The following editorial is written by Pat Arnow. For more than a year, the city has been ignoring solid community opposition to a massive flood control project that will demolish East River Park, and do the opposite. Now, with a furious hurricane season predicted, not listening could prove dire for these unwealthy sections of the […]