Back in 2001, I stumbled upon a photography show at the Getty Center in Los Angeles that I still think is one of my favorite museum exhibits I’ve ever seen. It showcased the work of a photographer who went by the name of Weegee.
Weegee captured street scenes in New York City like no other photographer during the 1930s and 1940s. While he sometimes focused his lens on regular folks going about their daily business, it was his stark black and white photos of crime scenes that made Weegee a legend and exposed people to the dark side of American society.
Weegee was born Usher Fellig in 1899 in what is now part of Ukraine. When he was 10-years-old, his family emigrated to New York. Weegee started taking photographs at a young age, working his way up through several companies before striking out of his own as a freelancer in 1935.
Weegee installed a police scanner in his car so he could be the first photographer on the scene to document New York City’s murders, accidents, and other crimes. His unflinching eye captured life and death on the streets of NYC in brutal fashion. Weegee’s work was celebrated around the country, and he sold his photos to many newspapers and tabloids.
The Museum of Modern Art began collecting Weegee’s work in 1943, and museums and galleries around the world soon followed suit. The prolific, groundbreaking photographer died in New York in 1968 at the age of 69.
Take a look at the photos below to get a taste of some of the grim, deadly scenes Weegee captured throughout his career. Be warned, some of these photos are graphic.
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