Weegee’s Naked City
If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then a photo book is like a novel. Unlike an
individual photograph, a photo book allows its author to tell a story, to show images in a
selected series in order to convey a message. As Parr and Badger write, “Every facet of
the book-maker’s craft can contribute to the success of a photo book.” In other words, the
artist of a photo book can not only use individual images to tell a story, but can now use
the display and order of the images as well.
In “Naked City”, Weegee uses his photobook to show the real New York City.
“Naked City” is different from many other photobooks that portray New York in that
while many photographers focused on the stoic and overwhelming aspects of the city,
Weegee focused his book on the “underbelly” of New York, often showing crime,
murder, death, and poverty, while also showing the life of high society, and how different
it was from the common man.
Weegee, originally named Usher Fellig (and later changed his name to Arthur
Fellig) was born in Australia. He immigrated to the United States when he was 7 years
old. While he began schooling, he dropped out in his early teens to help earn money to
support his family. His first job in the photography industry came at age 24, when he got
a job in the darkroom of Acme Newspicutes. The job also allowed him to occasionally
take photographs. In 1935 he became a freelance photographer for many of New York’s
newspapers. Weegee gained a reputation for arriving at crime scenes at the same time as,
or sometimes even before the police did, and photographing the scenes. It would be these
types of pictures that he would use in “Naked City” showing the crime on the streets.
When “Naked City” was released in 1945 it was an instant success. At the time, it
was the most profitable photobook ever made. When completed, the book contained
photos of all different communities and groups from New York. The photobook
portrayed New Yorkers who were sad and poverty stricken, and others who would rich
and attending theater and the opera. Weegee’s book also contained words. Each chapter
has an introduction, establishing a setting for the following pictures. Some pictures also
have captions. Sometimes the captions will describe the scene in the photograph, other
times it will tell Weegee’s emotions. For example under one picture of a mother and