Street shooters snap to it
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.williemcintyre.com, 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.