Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, and his 1945 photography book, Naked City—with its lurid tabloid-style images of Manhattan crime, crowds, and boisterous nightlife—changed prevailing journalistic practices almost overnight. In this volume, two art historians, Anthony W. Lee and Richard Meyer, bring markedly different outlooks on photography and modernism to their discussions of Weegee and his book. Meyer looks carefully at Weegee's pictures before and after they were collected and assesses how his practice of tabloid photography was inseparable from his own lowbrow appeal. Lee paints the vivid details of a leftist journalism world in 1930s and 1940s New York and shows how this world helped shape the photographer's vision. These essays restore the Naked City photographs to the mass circulation newspapers and magazines for which they were intended, and they trace the strange process by which the most famous of these pictures—suffused with blood, gore, and sensational crime—entered the museum.
Learning from Low Culture
Human Interest Stories
anthony w. lee
Anthony W. Lee, Associate Professor of Art History at Mount Holyoke College, is the series editor for Defining Moments in American Photography and is coauthor (with Elizabeth Young) of On Alexander Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. He is also the author of Painting on the Left: Diego Rivera, Radical Politics and San Francisco's Public Murals and Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco, all published by UC Press. Richard Meyer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Director of the Contemporary Project at the University of Southern California. In 2006-07, he served as the first Katherine Stein Sachs and Keith L. Sachs Visiting Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art, the editor of Representing the Passions: Histories, Bodies, Visions, and, with David Román, the co-editor of Art Works: Part I and II, two special issues of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. He is currently organizing an exhibition “Warhol's Jews” for the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and completing a book titled What was Contemporary Art?
“While Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke-White, and Alfred Steiglitz photographed New York's sleek skyscrapers, Arthur Fellig (called Weegee) documented the seamy underside of depression-era New York. In this extraordinary book, Richard Meyer and Anthony Lee tell a gripping tale, filled with historical detail about Weegee's transformation from freelance newspaper photographer to fine artist with the publication of his enormously successful book Naked City, in 1945.”—Cécile Whiting, author of Pop L.A.: Art and the City in the 1960s
“Lee and Meyer return Weegee to his 'working world' by exploring the multiple contexts of his production-the Photo League, the tabloids, the exhibition galleries, and the book market. The volume adds an important dimension to our understanding of how Weegee straddled the worlds of popular culture, photojournalism, and left politics."—Miles Orvell, author of American Photography and John Vachon's America: Photographs and Letters from the Depression to World War II (UC Press)
“Groundbreaking. Anthony Lee and Richard Meyer delve deeply into a rich archive of media and exhibition history, criticism, and biography to arrive at original interpretations of the most enigmatic photographer in modern visual and print culture.”—Jordana Mendelson, author of Documenting Spain: Artists, Exhibition Culture, and the Modern Nation, 1929-1939