*Original title: On How Street Photographer Wee gee sold out his friend Arthur Fellig for the pleasure of voyeurism, some taste of raw street frenzy and an unlimited membership to New York finest late night space odyssey.
Arthur Fellig, better known as “Wee-gee” or “Wee-gee the famous”, was a loner. I know it´s not the best way to start this story, but what I found fascinating about this guy was exactly that! Whether you like it or not, that´s a price not every photographer is willing to pay with a smile on the face, right? And to be honest, I think that “lone ranger” kind of life was a key factor for his success in photography. And you can see it in his photographs.
The day I met (or heard about Wee-Gee for the first time) I was kind of feeling pretty lonely. An old friend of mine showed me a book titled “Wee-gee (Aperture Masters of Photography)” and immediately I felt intimidated for the pictures and the stories inside every frame. Intimidated? Yeah, of course! Not everyone got that cold raw nerve to be like him.
I remember I thought, how the hell didn’t I know about this photographer before? - Wee-gee´s photos made me an impression I couldn’t forget. I felt an instant bond with that guy. I understood why some folks don’t find his photos valuable or even “civilized”, (it might takes a few looks to process the whole thing for some people) but I felt a great affection for all the people he photographed, completely outsiders, out of the “decent society” or off the books of the bourgeoisie.
Some folks said Wee-gee used to photograph only freaks or “damaged merchandise”, but I didn´t mind being considered damaged merchandise if it meant a lifetime membership to the Wee-gee´s club. And I haven´t changed my mind since then.
Fellig's nickname was a phonetic rendering of the famous game the Ouija. I’m pretty sure not only he wanted to sounds off interesting but also mysterious. Wee-gee was known for being present at the hot scenes only minutes after the crimes, fires or other emergencies were reported to proper authorities.
Of course, a good magician never reveals his tricks to anyone but later on it was known that in 1938 Wee-gee was the only New York reporter/photographer with a legal permit to have a portable police-band shortwave radio (what a great advantage! Some colleagues said). But that wasn’t the only card Wee-gee had to beat out the competition, he built up a darkroom in the trunk of his car to make sure to deliver all his photos on time to newspapers, ain’t that something?
There are some allegations that some photos were staged and some ex-fans are criticizing all the juxtapositions they found brilliant, but it´s up to you to believe whatever you want to believe. What I can say is that Wee-gee was a self-taught photographer with a basic plan; (basic press photographer equipment) + (4x5 Speed Graphic camera) + (f/16) + (1/200) + (flashbulbs) + (a set focus distance of ten feet). Needless to say, this equation never failed.
The fame and work of Wee-gee was not only for the pleasures of tabloids and readers, some filmmakers lined up to be his fans as well. One of them was a young and promising New Yorker man named…Stanley Kubrick.
Photograph taken by Wee-gee / Stanley Kubrick setting up a shot/ Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.
Stanley Kubrick was very influenced by the work of Wee-gee in his first films. The filmmaker admired him so much that later on, he asked him to be the still photographer and also a special effects advisor (uncredited) for his movie Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb].
Photograph taken by Wee-gee / set of the movie Dr. Strangelove. / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.
New York Times critic Holland Cotter called Wee-gee the photographer "who first made night a symbol, an existential condition." And some say Wee-gee was the first “poet of the night” for embracing a viewer’s desire for both experiencing; the grotesque action and being a part of the crowd.
If you like to watch films, you should watch the movie The Public Eye, with Joe Pesci as a 1940´s tabloid photographer who has a police radio in his car. Sounds familiar? IMDB trivia notes state that some of Wee-gee's photographs are shown in the film (as having been taken by Pesci's character).
Promotional poster of The public eye, a movie based on photographer Wee-gee / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.
If you like big stars, like Jude Law, in the 2002 film Road to perdition he portrayed a crime scene photographer based on Wee-gee. Some photographs of Wee-gee were used in the film as well.
Photograph of a scene of the movie Road to Perdition. Harlen Maguire, a character loosely based on photographer Wee-gee / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.
And, if you are a fan of the TV series The X-Files, you probably didn´t miss the chance to watch an episode where agent Dana Scully is assigned to work with a crime scene photographer named “Alfred Fellig” whose subjects may in fact be his victims.
Photograph of a scene of tv series The X-files. Character Alfred Fellig is loosely based on photographer Wee-gee / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.
And finally, if your thing is music, well, you can check out George Michael's second solo album "Listen without Prejudice" which features a Wee-gee photo on the cover.
Photograph taken by Wee-gee used on the George Michael second album / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.
So, I hope you're now more excited to keep learning more to Wee-gee, check out the official site or buy a book, you´ll really enjoy it!
Take good care amigos, See you on the road!
Written by Jesus Rodriguez
Feel free to comment!
Written by Jesus Rodriguez
Feel free to comment!