New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 6 February 22 to 28, 2012

Better than Art
Naked City
Don Burmeister
Emmett Kelly, May 7, 1943 by Weegee. Source:
Weegee, "Emmett Kelly, May 7, 1943"

After trudging through the snow to a couple of nearby shows that featured a rather dispiriting selection of new and emerging photographers (ok, like <here> and <here>), walking into the Steven Kasher Gallery was a bit like stepping back into the warm (and surprisingly smoke-free) embrace of Sammy’s Bowery Follies. At the very front of the gallery were the straight forward –– and revealing –– portraits of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators taken by Accra Shepp.

Stepping back further you feel the weight of the 21st century art-world lift as you enter the world of New York in the 1940’s and 50’s, the world of one Arthur Fellig, aka Weegee.

Here people are singing. Kids and grown-ups are getting their clothes soaked in the spray of a fire hydrant. 700,000 people are staring up at the photographer from Coney Island beach. There are clowns! Small-time racketeers are shot on the street. And everywhere people are watching, staring at their first murder, crying as Frank Sinatra touches their hearts, letting their feelings be known as Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh (and her diamonds) approach the Metropolitan Opera. This is the New York just over the horizon, the one we look back on. Not always a good time, yet a time when people were totally caught up in the world around them.

At the Jazz Concert by Weegee. Source:
Weegee, "At the Jazz Concert" c 1945

A diligent and encompassing photographer, Weegee was engaged with many of the different communities highlighted in this show. The major ethnic divides of the day are there - Irish, Italian, Jews, Blacks and Puerto Ricans. We see women dressed as men, men dressed as women, and undressed as well.

These scenes of New York could be happening today. Yet somehow the spirit of that time is lacking in the work of contemporary photographers. Today those endless pictures of men and women staring out at empty fields, or blankly back at the camera seem to represent today’s spirit.

Weegee’s best pictures were done quickly with the aim of selling the next day’s newspaper, and not meant to be confused with art. And indeed, Weegee’s street pictures are filled with something even better than Art – they’re filled with Life.

Naked City

Steven Kasher Gallery
521 W 23rd St.
Chelsea         Map

212 966 3978

Thursday, January 12 to
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Hours: Tue-Sat, 11 to 6