About photobooks – old and new.
Author: Weegee (Arthur Felig)
Title: Naked City
Published in 1945 by Essential Books (in order to distinguish first and second printing see this post)
8vo, Hardcover with illustrated dust jacket (rare to find in good condition)
Weegee (The famous), a Polish immigrant, whose original name was Arthur Felig, is considered the chronicler of New York City in the first half of the 20thcentury. The streets of the city were his stage, especially at night when criminals and eccentric characters would act more freely. The nocturnal perspective of a city is reminiscent of other photographers’ work, such as “Paris de Nuit” by Brassai.
Naked City was his most famous book, in which he revealed his ability to capture the drama and comedy of life, sometimes in the same picture. In some pictures he was able to portray with sarcasm people’s voyeurism and morbid interest in bloody scenes. In some cases Weegee would even add a sarcastic caption to describe some of the scenes.
The book is divided in thematic chapters, including catastrophic events such as fires, murders, and death, as well as social and cultural events at The Bowery, The Opera, or Frankie. The police used to call him Ouija, as he had the mysterious ability of arriving to the crime scenes before the authorities. Some have even suspected that he had inside information from the mobs themselves.
Weegee also had chapters dedicated to the working class life. He is sometimes considered “a man of the people for the people”. There is the famous picture taken in Coney Island with thousands of people packed on the beach on a hot summer day in the pre-air conditioned era. Another famous picture illustrating the unbearable hot nights in NYC apartments is the one of a family sleeping on the fire escape.
Despite being essentially a tabloid newspaper photographer, Weegee made his way to Hollywood after the publication of Naked City. The book was adapted for film and Weegee himself acted in different films. His experience in Hollywood led to the publication of “Naked in Hollywood”.