…this week the Indianapolis Museum of Art plans to announce that it has acquired a trove of work and correspondence by Weegee, the crepuscular, stogie-smoking New York photographer whose visceral pictures became a template not only for artists like Diane Arbus but also for much of the uncomfortably close tabloid imagery that exists today. The museum described the acquisition as a partial gift and partial purchase from the dealer.
The trunk is assumed to have once been the possession of Wilma Wilcox, a social worker who was Weegee’s companion and lived with him from 1957 until his death in 1968. Upon her death in 1993, she bequeathed the bulk of his work — thousands of prints and negatives — to the International Center of Photography in Manhattan. How the trunk full of prints and 62 letters to Ms. Wilcox from Weegee (born Usher Fellig in what is now Ukraine, and later known as Arthur Fellig) ended up in Kentucky is a mystery that neither the Indianapolis Museum nor the dealer, Steve H. Nowlin, has solved.
“People who work in the daytime are suckers,” he once said. Before the publication of his first book, “Naked City,” made him famous in 1945, he lived in a cheap room near police headquarters and was said to be so accustomed to working on the run that he once developed a picture of a prizefight in a subway motorman’s cab while rushing back to a newspaper office.
The size of the newly discovered collection pales in comparison with the holdings of the International Center of Photography, and Mr. Krause said that no previously unknown work had been found among the prints. But for a museum that began collecting photography seriously only 15 years ago, the work is an important addition — especially because the trunk contained a surprisingly broad survey of Weegee’s career, with the only weak spot being fewer prints from his early years of crime and murder-scene coverage in the 1930s.
Maxwell Anderson, the museum’s director, said the institution’s young collection has notable 19th-century work and a concentration of contemporary photography. “So this will serve as a great bridge between those traditions,” he said, adding, of the discovery of the prints and letters, that it was “like the last keystroke of a life of accidental purpose.”
Weegee — whose nickname, according to one story he told, was a transliteration of Ouija, a reference to his almost psychic ability to find a fresh crime scene — was the archetype of a tabloid photographer, working mostly at night in the lower-rent parts of New York City.
— NYT article by Randy Kennedy
“Weegee Found” slide show can be viewed here.