Feature

Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles

The legendary crime photographer moved to Los Angeles from New York City, and his distaste for his new home is expressed in his photographs.

Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, through Feb. 27

Though he made his reputation in New York, the legendary crime photographer known as Weegee “had big Hollywood dreams,” said Keith Plocek in ARTnews.com. Chasing fame, and perhaps seeking less violent material, Weegee, aka Arthur Fellig, cut out for Los Angeles in 1947. The place didn’t agree with him. L.A.’s denizens were, in his words, “zombies,” their city merely “Newark, N.J., with palm trees.” Lucky for us, he found a way to express his distaste. The first-ever survey of Weegee’s California work shows the lensman aiming his camera at strippers, oddballs, fans, and, of course, celebrities. But Weegee was no fawning paparazzo. Rather than glamorize movie stars, he preferred to mock their vanity, photographing them at unflattering moments, with food in their mouths, for instance, or with a distorting lens.

Somehow, Weegee’s L.A. work was “more lowbrow” than his crime photos, said William Poundstone in ArtInfo.com. He delighted in photographing disappointed fans, but was most vicious with celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe, whose face he “squinched into monstrous caricatures.” To achieve his effects, Weegee developed several analog precursors to today’s Photoshop filters. He was ahead of his time in other ways, too, said Iris Schneider in LAObserved.com. “Years before TMZ tapped into the public’s insatiable appetite for celebrities caught in the act of being human,” Weegee was on the scene. Observing the countless methods Weegee employed to skewer Hollywood might be as much fun as you can have in an art gallery. If you’re like me, you’ll spend most of your time just “trying to figure out how he did it.”

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