Street shoot­ers snap to it

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Gideon Haigh Eric My­ers

made to seg­re­gate the un­wel­come in­trud­ers. In Bris­bane, the Doc­tor Carver Ser­vice Club was es­tab­lished for black Amer­i­can sol­diers, which de­nied them ac­cess to the greater part of the city and re­stricted them to the poorer parts of the city south of the Bris­bane River.

Abo­rig­i­nal women were en­cour­aged to at­tend the club as dance part­ners, but the sober­ing fact was that most of the 200 women who at­tended the club were white.

McIn­tyre served in a med­i­cal unit in Papua New Guinea from May 1942. In 1944 his unit was re­lo­cated to Strath­pine just north of Bris­bane. An op­por­tunist, McIn­tyre wan­gled spe­cial per­mis­sion to at­tend the Carver club. In a sit­u­a­tion where white ser­vice­men were barred, McIn­tyre re­garded this as an hon­our and a priv­i­lege, and he per­formed there from time to time with African-Amer­i­can mu­si­cians.

It’s in­ter­est­ing that dur­ing these years Mel- In an era when ev­ery­one with a phone is po­ten­tially a street pho­tog­ra­pher, the genre, fa­mously as­so­ci­ated with Ar­bus and At­get, Maier and Meyerowitz, seems al­most too dif­fuse to grasp. On Google Street View, whole cities un­fold for our delec­ta­tion, the ‘‘de­ci­sive mo­ment’’ de­creed by Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia. What price the pre­cious in­stant against such con­sum­ing re­lent­less­ness?

A first full-length bi­og­ra­phy of Weegee and a hand­some mono­graph about Garry Wino­grand are rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent but pleas­ingly com­ple­men­tary con­tri­bu­tions to an un­der­stand­ing of the quixotic fig­ure of the pho­to­graphic fla­neur. Both are best known for prowl­ing New York, Weegee by night, Wino­grand by day, 30 years apart, work­ing op­po­site sides of the same streets.

Weegee was in head­long pur­suit of event: mur­der, fire, con­flu­ence, con­fronta­tion. Wino­grand was the master of the non-event that some­how gained sig­nif­i­cance through his record­ing of it. Weegee longed to step out from be­hind his camera, to achieve no­to­ri­ety, to be a sub­ject. Wino­grand, as he went on, seemed al­most to merge with his camera, pho­tograph­ing so cease­lessly and vo­lu­mi­nously that a sub­stan­tial por­tion of his oeu­vre has never been pro­cessed. Both their ca­reers were an­gled obliquely to the times.

As Christo­pher Bo­nanos notes in Flash, Weegee tack­led news pho­tog­ra­phy when its prac­ti­tion­ers were al­most en­tirely anony­mous. He cites a huge 1935 Knopf an­thol­ogy of new pic­tures called The Breath­less Mo­ment: ‘‘In its roughly two hun­dred pages, not one pho­tog­ra­pher is named, and the in­tro­duc­tion doesn’t bother to apol­o­gize or ex­plain.’’

At the same time, New York had be­come a bas­tion of the pic­to­rial press. There were nine daily news­pa­pers, no­tably the Daily News, a pi­o­neer­ing tabloid which at its peak sold nearly five mil­lion copies, and which ad­ver­tised its com­mit­ment to the visual with a mast­head in­cor­po­rat­ing a Graflex Speed Graphic, the same camera Weegee would bran­dish as his per­mis­sion to go any­where.

Born Usher Fel­lig into a fam­ily of Gali­cian Jews in 1899, Weegee landed at Ellis Is­land aged 10 and grew up in the same Lower East Side streets he later pho­tographed. Yet he sloughed that iden­tity off al­most en­tirely: his boast­ful and wise­crack­ing au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Weegee by Weegee (1961), Bo­nanos notes, is ma­te­ri­ally un­re­li­able even about his num­ber of si­b­lings.

Fel­lig be­came the def­i­ni­tion of a self-made bourne jazz mu­si­cians usu­ally stuck to their day jobs, un­like their coun­ter­parts in Syd­ney, who tended to em­bark on ca­reers as pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians.

Trum­peter Tony New­stead, in whose band McIn­tyre played for most of his life, had a distin­guished ca­reer as an elec­tron­ics en­gi­neer; McIn­tyre’s close col­league clar­inet­tist Ge­orge Tack stud­ied agri­cul­tural sci­ence at Mel­bourne univer­sity and worked for the CSIRO.

McIn­tyre him­self joined the Vic­to­rian Pub­lic Ser­vice as a teenager, but from 1939 worked the rest of his life for a com­pany called Non­porite, which man­u­fac­tured “wa­ter­proof­ing prod­ucts used to pre­vent leaks in build­ings”. man, com­posed, as it were, of the pho­to­graphs he started tak­ing in his teens in and around work as a printer in news­pa­per dark­rooms, in which, per­ma­nently im­pov­er­ished, he some­times slept when park benches were un­avail­able or doss houses un­af­ford­able.

New York in the 1930s was raw, rack­ety, dense and dan­ger­ous. Bo­nanos has put stu­pen­dous ef­fort into pin­ning down the prove­nance of some of Weegee’s most fa­mous im­ages: the blood­stained corpses, the perp walks, the jagged jux­ta­po­si­tions, the slices of ten­e­ment life.

On some, such as cor­nered, bat­tered ‘‘ Mad Dog’’ Es­pos­ito and femme fa­tale Norma Parker, whole nov­els could be writ­ten. On oth­ers, Weegee even had a go him­self, adding punchy ti­tles. The rub­ber­neck­ing crowds of ‘‘Their First Mur­der’’ and ‘‘Bal­cony Seats at a Mur­der’’ be­lie Weegee’s dis­mis­sive re­mark: ‘‘I have no time for mes­sages … That’s for Western Union and the Sal­va­tion Army. Army.’’

What he loved adding most most, how­ever how­ever, was a rub­ber stamp on the back de­mand­ing credit for ‘‘A. Fel­lig’’, then ‘‘Arthur (Weegee) Fel­lig’’, and fi­nally ‘‘Weegee the Fa­mous’’. Bo­nanos de­scribes how sed­u­lously Weegee mar­keted him­self and his work­ing meth­ods with im­ages of his half-room over a gun dealer’s shop in Lit­tle Italy with a sin­gle chair, type­writer, newsprint wall­pa­per and book­shelf con­tain­ing copies of Live Alone and Like It and The Sex Life of the Un­mar­ried Adult.

Weegee’s nick­name was a pho­to­graphic brand avant le let­tre, al­legedly de­rived from an Ouija board, a ref­er­ence to a su­per­nat­u­ral tal­ent for find­ing his way to crime scenes, which owed more to as­sid­u­ous sur­veil­lance of po­lice short­wave traf­fic. In this way, Bo­nanos ar­gues, Weegee be­came an archetype, pop­u­lar cul­ture re­serv­ing a place for ‘‘the squat guy in a rum­pled suit and crum­pled fe­dora, car­ry­ing a big press camera with a flash­gun mounted on its side, a stinky cigar clamped in the cor­ner of his mouth’’, with the re­sult that ‘‘peo­ple who have never heard of Weegee can de­scribe him’’.

It’s a provoca­tive claim and, un­for­tu­nately, Bo­nanos doesn’t con­vinc­ingly elab­o­rate on it. Just when you’re ready to tour the de­pic­tion of

“By day Wil­lie McIn­tyre was a mild-man­nered ac­coun­tant, al­ways im­pec­ca­bly dressed in a suit with his hand-made shirt and cuff­links,” writes Sand­ford. “By night he was ‘ The Lion’, a hard­drink­ing boo­gie and stride pian­ist who w sang in a Fats Waller style or shouted the blues.”

The pian­ist Dick Hughes em­u­lated other Mel­bur­ni­ans in that, even after mov­ing to Syd­ney where w mu­sic gigs were plen­ti­ful, he never gave up his day job as a pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ist. Hughes died in April. A pro­tege of McIn­tyre’s, he wrote the fore­word for this book, de­scrib­ing McIn­tyre as “one of Aus­tralia’s great­est jazz en­ter­tain­ers … He played the most solid pi­ano one can hear.” pho­tog­ra­phers in cinema and/or an exposition of how Weegee’s use of sin­gle light sources in­flu­enced noir aes­thet­ics, the au­thor’s in­ter­est seems to flag. We get Weegee’s role in pro­vid­ing the look and ti­tle of Mark Hellinger’s The Naked City (1948) but not the in­spi­ra­tion he supplied to more re­cent movies such as Two Evil Eyes (1990), The Pub­lic Eye (1992) and Nightcrawler (2014), which started as a biopic.

A by-prod­uct of Weegee’s re­lent­less self­mythol­o­gis­ing is also that the re­li­able bi­o­graph­i­cal ma­te­rial is thin, which Bo­nanos can do lit­tle to disguise. For an ap­prox­i­mate date of the dis­so­lu­tion of Weegee’s short mar­riage, for ex­am­ple, he has to rely on a pawn­bro­ker’s ticket for $3 for what may or may not have been his wed­ding ring.

More ma­te­rial con­cerns Weegee’s later life, when his work was far less even and he be­came bizarrely ob­sessed with dis­tort­ing lenses, an en­thu­si­asm for which he could not be­lieve was no not more widely shared. ‘‘You’re miss­ing the bo boat,’’ he com­plained to a scep­ti­cal ed­i­tor. ‘‘T ‘‘These broads with five tits are gonna be a sensa sa­tion.’’ By the sec­ond half of the 1950s, ob ob­serves Bo­nanos dryly, ‘‘Weegee had be­come an oldies act, and the dis­tor­tion shots were the ne new al­bum that no­body wanted to hear.’’

By then Wino­grand was at work, turn­ing hi his lens on a New York of calmer, more prospe per­ous post­war streets, and in an arts en­vi­ronm ment more in­dul­gent of pho­tog­ra­phy: he be ben­e­fited from three Guggen­heim fel­low­ships.

He too en­joyed a pro­duc­tive peak, in the 60 60s, from which more than half the 100 pho­togr graphs in Ge­off Dyer’s com­pi­la­tion are drawn. Bu But Dyer has cho­sen with a free hand, in­spired by per­sonal affini­ties and cre­ative re­sponses, an and the re­sult is more than the sum of its parts, wh which were con­sid­er­able any­way.

Where Weegee se­duc­tively nor­malised the shock value of his con­tent, Wino­grand was fas­ci­nated by the chal­lenge of mak­ing a pho­to­graph ‘‘more in­ter­est­ing than what ac­tu­ally hap­pened’’, in a coun­try of sur­face or­der­li­ness now merely edged with un­ease. Dyer, whose The On­go­ing Mo­ment (2005) was an in­vig­o­rat­ing romp through a se­lec­tion of clas­sic pho­to­graphs, rel­ishes sift­ing for the al­lu­sions and self-quo­ta­tions in im­ages pop­u­lated not by in­di­vid­u­als ‘‘so much as highly in­di­vid­u­alised in­stances of char­ac­ter types’’.

Four men gath­ered round an open bon­net evoke ‘‘the ca­pac­ity of a car en­gine to swal­low up all the philo­soph­i­cal depth of which men are ca­pa­ble’’; a man and a woman in dis­tracted con­ver­sa­tion at an air­port ex­plore ‘‘talk as a way of killing time that is al­ready dead’’; a tiny fig­ure saun­ter­ing past a blank bank wall ‘‘looks like a se­quence from a thriller as it might have been di­rected by An­to­nioni’’.

As Dyer ob­serves: ‘‘If you spend enough time on the streets you will come across ev­ery­thing.’’ Tech­nol­ogy’s in­stant to­tal­i­ties, then, will still not quite suf­fice to do them jus­tice. is a jour­nal­ist and au­thor.

In a typ­i­cal anec­dote, Hughes in­tro­duced McIn­tyre to Count (Bill) Basie in Mel­bourne in 1971, say­ing: “Bill, this is Will, and you taught him, and Will taught me.”

The CD which ac­com­pa­nies the book is avail­able from www.williem­cin­, and has 21 tracks cov­er­ing the years 1946 to 1985. Any jazz buff who has never heard the ex­tra­or­di­nary Ge­orge Tack will find the mu­sic an un­mit­i­gated plea­sure.

As for McIn­tyre, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to hear that what he plays is of­ten closely re­lated to the con­ven­tional pi­ano sounds of 1950s rock ’n’ roll, which also came out of the early African-Amer­i­can blues styles that in­flu­enced McIn­tyre.

It’s not far from Wil­lie ‘‘The Lion’’ to a pian­ist such as Jerry Lee Lewis. But once again, that’s an­other story. writes on jazz for The Aus­tralian.

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