Norman and Carolyn Carr, Akron, Ohio
Gift to Akron Art Museum, 1982
2015: "Proof" 4/30/15 - 10/25/15, Arnstein Galleries, Akron Art Museum
1997 - 1998: "A 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 11/15/97 - 1/11/98, Akron Art Museum,
1995: "Feelings & Facts: The Changing Role of Documentary Photography" 6/17/95 - 8/27/95, Akron Art Museum
1991 - 1992: "Focus on the Collection: A 70th Anniversary Celebration" 11/3/91 - 1/5/92, Akron Art Museum
1986: "Photographs from the Permanent Collection" 1/28/86 - 4/6/86, Akron Art Museum
Full title elsewhere: "Cop Killer in Line-Up Room...Eventually Went to the Electric Chair"
stamped on verso: "credit Photo by Weegee the Famous" with studio address stamp
Anthony Esposito, Accused "Cop Killer," 1941
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Weegee (Arthur H. Fellig) was a rough-and-tumble tabloid street photographer, the first of his species to be recognized by the art establishment. His family immigrated to the United States in 1910; he left school in his teens and lived awhile in Bowery flophouses. After a decade as a darkroom technician at a photography agency, he became a freelance photographer in 1935, contributing principally to the New York Mirror. Weegee employed a Speed Graphic camera, the standard press photographer's tool of the day, but his secret weapon was the police radio he had installed in his car. He was the only paparazzo so authorized. His amazing ability to arrive on the scene even before the police got there earned him his nickname, a phonetic spelling of “Ouija.”
Weegee is usually described as a "primitive." While not inaccurate, this label merits a closer look. He was self-taught and not overly cultured, but then so were nearly all of his colleagues in that era, when only art photography inspired by the Pictorialists of several decades earlier held any sort of cachet. He always went for the big, crude effect. He hardly gauged his compositions—but how could he, when speed was of the essence, his camera was bulky, and mobs surrounded him? His darkroom work was never terribly subtle, but subtlety had no chance in the tabloid printing process, which rendered the entire midrange as mud. Likewise his venue demanded broadly iconic images for an immediate impact upon the preoccupied reader who was hastily leafing through the paper on the subway.
For all of that, Weegee's eye—and personality—rapidly made him known in very disparate quarters. Only ten years separate the beginning of his freelance career from the 1945 publication of his first book, Naked City, an unheard-of accomplishment for any sort of photographer then. He was just one of the herd of news photographers out covering murders and fires, but even today, when our respect for their trade has increased, he remains the only one whose name we are likely to know. This reflects on his genius for publicity, but it is also due to his uncannily consistent ability to make photographs that convey a narrative simply and dramatically, that are visual slogans or epigrams—or, more to the point, headlines. His pictures do not depend on any knowledge of the circumstances of their making; they are reduced to essentials and so are effortlessly timeless.
Anthony Esposito, Accused “Cop Killer” is a case in point. We are not looking at just any hood who murdered a policeman while trying to escape arrest, but—so the picture says—at the cop killer, the only one we need ever look at to recognize the breed. He has been worked over by the boys downstairs, hastily patched up, and then fingerprinted (which accounts for the right hand he seems to still be deploying in self-justification). Now he is being shoved over to the wall to be photographed. We get a sense of frozen turbulence. The killer looks small next to the broad back of the cop who is manhandling him, which takes up a full quarter of the frame, and who is given further height by the yardstick apparently growing out of his head. The flashbulb lights up the killer's face and sprays onto the cop's shoulder. The wall is neutral; the figures might be cut-outs glued to its surface. And they are, forever: two unindividuated blocklike representatives of the law and one small cop killer who will never be anything else.
- Luc Sante, 2001
Barth, Miles. Weegee’s World. With essays by Miles Barth, Alain Bergala, and Ellen Handy. Boston and New York: Little, Brown in association with the International Center of Photography, New York, 1997.
Kaiser, Reinhard. Weegee's New York. Munich: Schirmer/Mosel, 1990.
Stettner, Louis. Weegee. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.
Weegee with Mel Harris. Weegee, by Weegee: An American Biography. New York: Ziff-Davis, 1961. Reprinted, New York: Da Capo, 1980.