Back in the 1970s, David Young bought a box of 73 vintage news photographs at a Philadelphia second-hand store. This year, he pulled them out of the kitchen cabinet of his Seattle home, where they have been languishing for decades, and realized that they were all lost photos by the great New York crime photographer Weegee, whose real name was Arthur Felig.
Young reached out to Christopher Boranos, Weegee‘s biographer, who quickly confirmed that the “A. Fellig” stamp and the handwriting on the back of the prints matched the artist’s.
Most of the photos were completely unknown before the discovery. None had been catalogued in the archives of Weegee’s estate, which were left to New York’s International Center of Photography. Only a few of the images were ever published in New York newspapers.
“It’s like discovering 73 unknown poems by Walt Whitman or unearthing a novella by Melville,” Christopher George, the archivist who manages the Weegee collection at the the International Center of Photography, told New York magazine, calling it “an extraordinary find.”
Weegee was known for his seemingly preternatural ability to appear on the scene of a crime almost instantaneously, sometimes beating even the police. (In 1938, he installed a police radio in his car.) The artist’s gritty black-and-white images captured the seedy underbelly of New York City after dark. He often focused on the onlookers and their reactions to the scene as was unfolding.
Boranos researched the photos and dated them to April and May of 1937, just a couple of years after Weegee began working as a freelance news photographer in 1935. He was able to link some 80 percent of the images to a specific crime or incident based on contemporaneous news reports. There are a pair of police station portraits showing a teenage couple after their arrest for allegedly murdering the woman’s mother, a posed photo of a group of children gawking at the site of a car accident, a late-night tenement fire, and what appears to be a scuffle during a strike, among many others.
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