This article started out as a post on Facebook. I was going to discuss my take on one particular photograph by the photographer Weegee. As I continued to write, the “post” began to grow, in this case, to almost 500 words, which I felt was too much for FB. So the question became what to do with it? I first though about putting it on my photography blog, John Greco Photography – Watching Shadows on the Wall, but decided it would take the blog in a direction I did not want it to go toward. For better or worse, I wanted to keep that blog exclusively for just my work. The solution, I came up with was to add it here. I justified this by the fact that Weegee was not just a photographer but a filmmaker too and that he worked in one capacity or another in the movies for a period of time. Therefore, here is my take on how I read Weegee’s photograph (below) known as “Lovers at the Palace” (1) along with some background on the photographer.
While the young couple’s making out seems to be the only reason for this photo by Weegee, more is going on here than the young duos sexual juices being stirred. There is another level that makes this photo interesting and fun. First, let’s check out the girl. She is wearing a fairly revealing, for the 1940’s, see-through blouse. I also love the way her feet, with curled toes, are resting on the top of the seat in front of her. As for the guy, well he could not even be bothered to take off his 3-D glasses while kissing her. This is all pretty obvious. But let’s also look at the rest of the audience. All of them seemed bored! Is the film they are watching that bad? Especially, interesting are the two people in the back. The gentleman directly behind the couple in the photo, dressed in a suit, is either annoyed by the young lovers or maybe it’s the film, but either way he looks like he could use an aspirin! The other person to his right, not sure if it is a guy or a girl, seems to be staring at the lovers but may even be sleeping. Put this all together and it makes for an appealing, voyeuristic and humorous photo.
Weegee (real name Arthur Fellig) was a photojournalist in the 1930’s and 1940’s. A lot of his work covered murders and other crimes of urban life on the Lower East Side of New York City. He was authorized to have a police band short wave radio which gave him a one step up on other newspaper photographers of the day. He also maintained a darkroom in the trunk of his car which gave him a further advantage over other photo journalists. (2)
Later in his career he became a bit more respectable when some of his work was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art for a series of photo exhibits. In 1945, he published his first book of photographs called “Naked City.” The title of the book was purchased by movie producer, Mark Hellinger, and was used as the title for the Universal film, “The Naked City (1948).” Weegee did some extra work in films like “Every Girl Should Get Married” with Cary Grant and “The Yellow Cab Man,” with Red Skelton, among a few others. He also worked behind the scenes of a few films like “Dr. Strangelove,” and “The James Dean Story.” He also experimented in making his own 16mm film, completing it in 1948, a 20 minute short called “Weegee’s New York.” In the 1950’s he began to experiment with still photography techniques like distortion, photographing regular people and celebrities in this style which he called caricatures. Other books and exhibitions followed. He died in December of 1968.
The 1992 movie, “The Public Eye” starring Joe Pesci was inspired by Weegee’s life and career.
(1) If you search the web you will find a few Weegee photos that fall under this title all with the same similar theme.
(2) In his day, Weegee was better known as an ambulance and police crime chaser than what we call photo journalists.