Deconstructing Weegee: Capturing Urban Disorder in New York City

By Vasundhara Singh
Picture Source: Pinterest


Arthur Fellig, known professionally as Weegee, worked as a press photographer in New York City during the 1930s and 1940s. Weegee made a living out of photographing victims of crime scenes and fatal accidents. 

A photograph from his professional career as a news photographer that captures a ‘shock-value’ is captioned ‘The body of Dominick Didato, August 6, 1936’ shows a man wearing a suit laying sideways on the sidewalk with his bloody head facing the camera and his hat lying a few inches away from him. The image shows an isolated body indicating Weegee was either the first person or one of the first people to arrive at the scene of the crime indicating his speed and immediacy as a press photographer.

The body of Dominick Didato, August 6, 1936 

Source: Artnet 

He pioneered such a way of photographing violence, crime and accidents. He is even considered a predecessor to the later generation of American T.V journalists and camera persons who are willing to cross permissible boundaries of ethicality.

Tenement fire, 1939 

Source: Artnet 

As a photographer, he wanted to reflect the chaotic times America was in but with a sense of humor and irony. He captured extreme blood-shed and gore but never made it seem as though it was out of the ordinary. News photography was a crowded space even then, during the 1930s and 1940s in America and what made Weegee’s photographs distinguishable from his contemporaries was the use of a human angle to the narrative of a photograph. 

Their first murder, October 8, 1941

Source: Artnet 

‘Their first murder. October 8​ , 1941,’shows a group of children pushing and shoving each other to get a clearer look at the crime scene and in the center, one can see the face of a hysterical woman who is the mother of the man who has been murdered. The viewer can sense a naïve excitement in the photograph and simultaneously, feel a sense of pity for the howling mother.

One of the important compositional techniques that Weegee utilized in his news photography was the use of fragmental composition. This type of a composition is seen when the subjects or objects in a photograph are a part of their surrounding and the scene photographed seems to be going off beyond the edges of a frame.

Man found dead in Bryant Park, 1937 

Source: Artnet 

Weegee photographed and consequently chronicled New York City, especially it’s dark and violent underbelly evident in his photographs of crime scenes and automobile accidents. Photographing crime had become popular as a direct result of the surge in violence after the First World War. In many ways, Weegee became a social documentarian who used his large-format speed graphic camera to capture surreal moments of life and death.

For more such pieces, check out The Word.