Weegee was born Usher Fellig in 1899 in Złoczów, Austria, now the city of Zolochiv in Western Ukraine. In 1909 he emigrated with his family to New York City, settling into one of the tenements on the Lower East Side. He pioneered a raw and energetic approach to freelance photojournalism, covering events in his adopted neighborhood, and selling his photographs to newspapers like The New York Post, then a left-leaning afternoon broadsheet.
During the 1940’s Weegee began to actively publish books of his photography. In November 1946 he announced the publication of his book Weegee’s People, with the following statement:
"Unlike my previous book, Naked City, this is New York in a happier and gayer mood. I went looking for beauty and found it. Here’s my formula–dealing as I do with human beings, and I find them wonderful–I leave them alone and let them be themselves–holding hands with love-light in their eyes–sleeping–or merely walking down the street. The trick is to be where people are."
The gritty crime images which were featured prominently in Naked City remain Weegee’s best known work. He was known for sometimes arriving at the scene of a crime before the police and his pseudonym was intended as a self-promoting reference to the Ouija board, advertising his seeming foreknowledge about where crimes would occur—in truth we know that he monitored a police radio he had installed in his car.
Weegee’s name is synonymous with an approach to photography that was determined to reveal New York City in all its extremes, from calamity to elation. He followed the action and used the camera’s flash to expose the city in all its unvarnished glory.