Home/ Weegee (Usher Fellig) – Biography

Weegee (Usher Fellig) – Biography

In the 1930s and 1940s Weegee’s name was closely associated with New York and life in the city. In a society distressed by economic and mental depression, Weegee confronted his viewers with loneliness, poverty and crime. At the same time, he also showed moments of beauty and happiness, which were also parts of life in the Lower East Side, Harlem or Bowery. The subjects, however, were not solely responsible for his renown: the artistic force, dramatic effect, raw realism and sharp contrasts of his pictures made him a pioneer for generations of photographers to follow him.

This exhibition at Mai Manó House features 104 of Weegee’s best photos, which draw an intimate portray of New York.

Photo: Weegee(Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images © Courtesy Institute for Cultural Exchange, Germany 2018

1899: Weegee is born as Usher Fellig, in Lemberg, now Ukraine, into a family of immigrant Jews.

1906: His father arrives in the United States.

1910: The rest of the family follows him to the USA, and they settle in New York’s Lower East Side. His parents change his given name to Arthur.

1913: He drops out of school and works as an assistant for a travelling photographer.

1917: Having left his parents’ home at the age of 18, he sleeps at railway stations and homeless shelters, living on the meagre income he makes during the day.

1918: He is employed at Ducket & Adler, a photographer’s studio.

1924: He starts working for ACME Newspictures, a news agency.

1935: Becomes a freelance photographer, working for several local and national newspapers.

1938: Weegee is the only journalist in New York who is permitted to monitor police radio traffic on his mobile shortwave set.

1940: Adopts the alias, Weegee, and in the late 1940s signs most of his photos with a rubber stamp on the back, “Weegee the Famous.”

1941: His exhibition, Murder is my Business opens in New York. The same year he starts to experiment with 16 mm film.

1943: New York’s Museum of Modern Art purchases five of his pictures for the exhibition, Action Photography.

1945: He releases his first album of photography, Naked City.

1946: His second album is entitled Weegee’s People. He starts to teach at The New School for Social Research. By this time he is also employed by Hollywood as an actor and technological consultant.

1947: He moves to Hollywood, and collects material for a book, Naked Hollywood.

1948: Weegee’s New York, his first film is released. He is featured at the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, 50 Photographs by 50 Photographers, which is curated by Edward Steichen.

1952: He moves back to New York, and makes distorted portraits of celebrities and politicians.

1956: Studies distortions, and begins to develop a special kaleidoscopic lens, which he later calls “Weegee-scope.”

1958: He is a special effects advisor for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

1959: He gives lectures in the Soviet Union, where his pictures are presented at several exhibitions.

1961: He publishes Weegee by Weegee, an autobiographical volume.

1964: Weegee’s Creative Photography is the last album released in his lifetime.

1968: He dies on 26 December, in New York.