See Grisly Photos from the Godfather of Crime Scene Photography

'Weegee: Murder Is My Business' comes to Toronto's Ryerson Image Centre.

|
10 October 2015, 12:00pm

Weegee, "Hats in pool room, Mulberry Street, New York, ca. 1943" © Weegee/International Center of Photography. All images courtesy of the International Center of Photography

This article contains graphic images that may be unsuitable for some viewers.  

Freelance photojournalist Weegee (1899-1968) is known for his gritty, sensationalistic photographs of crime scenes in New York City between 1936 and 1947, presented in a style that has since become ubiquitous in tabloid journalism. From October 14 through December 13, the exhibition Weegee: Murder Is My Business will travel to the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto from New York’s International Center of Photography, which is the home of the Weegee Archive.

According to the press release, the exhibition “looks at the urban violence and mayhem that was the focus of Weegee’s early work.” He lived across the street from a police station and would hear of new crimes through his police-band radio receiver, often heading to the scene even before the police. With liberal use of flash, he “illuminat[ed] crime scenes and tragedies with garish artificial light. This new approach produced lurid high-contrast pictures.”

Lql04xV0I07-NP55nXP3hsw6SFxYUjKdXoEnMnEU63E,ZgzhX84QKOn9RZMfCOEO6U5vgRxdz8U584udIoLBL1w.jpg

Weegee, "Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris Linker from East River, New York, August 24, 1943" © Weegee/International Center of Photography

With his popularity rising, Weegee worked closely with the police, but was also said to have befriended members of Murder Inc.—a gang that served as hitmen for The Syndicate, a web of mostly Italian crime bosses—earning himself the nickname of the group's official photographer. He organised his own exhibitions and was published in a variety of New York newspapers, calling himself “Weegee the Famous” and declaring with pride that he had covered 5,000 murders.

Says Brian Wallis, exhibition curator, “Weegee has often been dismissed as an aberration or as a naïve photographer, but he was in fact one of the most original and enterprising photojournalists of the 1930s and ‘40s. His best photographs combine wit, daring, and surprisingly original points of view... He favored unabashedly low-culture or tabloid subjects and approaches, but his Depression-era New York photographs need to be considered seriously...”

iktf2Es0G6qaXXxXZCnp4t1Uivl2UOWlpdMFRtfRMYY,E_cvLdVeoH1Zrsif0zusjU63AArCuNy4t0aXNZxqYxc.jpg

Weegee, "Murder, ca. 1940" © Weegee/International Center of Photography

Weegee can now be recognised as an innovator in photography, documentary, and journalism at once. He shows the gore that everyone wants to see but won’t admit to craving. He sees what everyone is afraid to look at. An exhibition section text sums it up: “Weegee’s intimate voyeurism and shrugging acceptance of life’s hard knocks constitute a unique approach to documentary photography, one divorced from the reformist zeal of the US 1930s New Deal, yet tempered by the economic trauma of the Great Depression and an immigrant’s experience of hardscrabble survival.”

See more examples from the exhibition here:

bpHkW6TpT2ov5ccH3_0EfxALIt-CIbHh1e-6t3uSChs,699tYYd9Dtl0WDMWMn28W1ZuecrTbv9Br0Vjk5bvl2k.jpg

Unidentified Photographer. "On the Spot, December 9, 1939" International Center of Photography

jhdjhFNXFxBxOvdurwgwigUs8HGN6bCC6RuL75QO0X0,sb6WgpWrHp_RMll8-01JwWuSQg-iLZWDhOz1y_JuDAM.jpg

Weegee, "Anthony Esposito, Accused 'Cop Killer,' January 16, 1941" © Weegee/International Center of Photography

e2Moo1Zy7iDx4QwBG-QH_5V8hwqduzV1zqM5HuXz-t8.jpg

Weegee, "Body of Dominick Didato, Elizabeth Street, New York, August 7, 1936" © Weegee/International Center of Photography

EYYUmr94FH4XthpajV-b1brGO4SIv1ULXl3xy87Lv3Y,OlV_cnfORpWtSkM4P-MKAVmWAN1BeOBCXMZ03XJndjk.jpg

Weegee, "'Ruth Snyder Murder' wax display, Eden Musée, Coney Island, New York, 1941" © Weegee/International Center of Photography

gvtXgrmieB70dce4JvuBTq0pLt1tXFBBpgS2o2ciC3A.jpg

Weegee, "Girl jumped out of car, and was killed, on Park Ave., ca. 1938" © Weegee/International Center of Photography

cKJFcYAObwi4hq3a0alpb-qifjz_ZhiVUYGDqbMO0QE.jpg

Weegee, "Line-Up for Night Court, ca. 1941" © Weegee/International Center of Photography

Click here to learn more about Weegee: Murder Is My Business

Related:

Photo Book Covers Crime and the LAPD in 1953

Photographing Trips to Visit Family Members in Prison

Snapshots of the Future of Photography

More VICE
Vice Channels