Birth and Early life
Weegee (Usher Fellig) was born on June 12, 1899 in Złoczów, near the town of Lemburg, Austria. Shortly after his birth, his father, a Rabbi by profession, immigrated to America to provide for his burgeoning family.
At the tender age of ten, he too immigrated to America alongside his mother and three brothers. His name was changed from Usher to Arthur shortly after, due to the fact that Usher was an unpopular name in America at the time.
An increasingly grim financial situation forced Fellig to abandon his education at the age of 14. He worked numerous odd jobs, as was common at the time. In 1913 he was hired as a darkroom technician by Ducket & Adler in Lower Manhattan. He then did a similar job for Acme Newspictures in 1924. This is where he discovered his passion for photography. This is also where he got his now iconic nickname “Weegee”.
After leaving Acme he worked as a freelance photographer for a decade. He began his career at the Manhattan Police Headquarters, visiting frequently to check if any stories had broken. After a while he decided that this was tying him down so he bought car and took to the road with a police radio to try to get to the action first.
Late 1930s to mid-1940s
In 1938, Weegee was the only New York photographer with access to a police radio; he made his Chevrolet his portable office and always kept everything he would need in his trunk, including a portable dark-room, flash bulbs, cigars etc.
In 1943 five pictures he took made their way to the Museum of Modern Art. They were included in their exhibition entitled ‘Action Photography’.
He released his first book of photographs, Naked City, in 1945. Notable film producer, Mark Hellinger purchased the rights to the title from Weegee. In 1948, his photos formed the foundation for Hellinger’s film, The Naked City.
1950s and 1960s
Weegee also dabbled in filmmaking and worked in the Hollywood from 1946 to the early 1960s. He was a special effects consultant and photographer for Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
In the 1950s and 1960s Weegee stepped out of his comfort zone, experimenting with panoramic photos, photo distortions and photography through prisms. One of his more controversial pieces is of the iconic Marilyn Monroe where her face is extremely distorted in a weird manner but still recognizable.
He contributed a sequence of photographs for the 1950 film, The Yellow Cab Man. Staying true to his forte in that decade, he distorted the images greatly, gathering critical approval.
In the 1960s he travelled extensively in Europe and photographed nude subjects. In London he befriended a pornographer and photographed the famous model, Pamela Green.
In 1966 he starred as himself in ‘The ‘Imp’probable Mr. Wee Gee’, it was a “Nudie Cutie” exploitation film where he was shown falling in love with a mannequin of sorts.
Weegee died, aged 69, on December 26, 1968 in New York.
Weegee’s widow, Wilma Wilcox, founded the Weegee Portfolio Incorporated in 1980 to form an exclusive collection of Weegee’s photographic prints; she later donated all his photos to the International Center of Photography.
Many exhibitions held after his death, the most notable and the largest was in 1997. Recently there have been two exhibitions, in 2012; titled Murder is my business and The Naked City respectively. His autobiography was republished in 2013 with the title “Weegee: The Autobiography”