If you’ve watched old Hollywood crime films from the 1930s and 40s, you’ll have seen plenty of Speed Graphics in action, those bulky cameras with large bulbs that could light up a dark alley at night. Among the most widely regarded real news photographers of the day was Weegee, whose street beat work in New York City set the news photography standard.
Born Usher Fellig in Ukraine, he earned his non de guerre from the Ouija board, given his knack to be first on the scene, whether a fire, riot, ghastly car accident or grisly murder. The right place at the right time. He would often sleep in his car –where he had a portable darkroom set up– and was the first photographer given permission by the police to listen in on police band short wave radio.
Those tabloid newspaper street scenes are well represented among the 100+ currently on display at the Palazzo della Ragione in Milan, but the best work is that which goes beyond the screaming headlines. He shot everything, from the good to the bad, but apparently enjoyed focusing on the bad. He spent a lot of time examining the racial tension, the class divide and general anxiety of the city between the Great Depression and immediate post-WW II era. Some of the best shots are opposite of the event he’s there to witness, capturing onlooker’s reactions. I was captivated watching other exhibit visitor’s reactions.
Unknown Weegee, Palazzo della Ragione, a block away from Duomo square. 7 EUR. Thru 12-Oct.
And if you won’t be in Milan over the next eight days, The International Center for Photography, who own some 18,000 Weegee images, has a slide show of the exhibit.