Critics’ Picks

Eyes, ca. 1958.

New York


International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)
250 Bowery
December 13–February 16

In 1945, with the announcement “I’m never going to make news photographs anymore. I’m not going to take fires, or fights or accidents. That isn’t the New York that I love now,” Weegee abandoned the naked city of pulp verité in favor of what he called “creative photography” or, sometimes, “art.” Between 1945 and his death in 1968 he created more than ten thousand photographs using a range of experimental techniques, which included exposing negatives through warped Plexiglas, and making a trick lens out of a Woolworth’s kaleidoscope. With his use of multiple exposures, mirrors, projections, and other means to manipulate the photographic image, he gave full rein to the ludic, vaudevillian sensibility that had been latent in his photojournalism. The result was a body of radically eccentric pictures that were greeted with near-universal critical opprobrium. Two hundred of them are now on view at ICP, making a convincing case that Weegee, like Francis Picabia, is an artist whose late-phase freak-out deserves serious attention.

“Distortion” prints, in which celebrities of the ’50s and ’60s are grotesquely morphed and caricatured, predominate: Elizabeth Taylor’s features acquire a distinctly simian cast, while Judy Garland takes on the hideously winsome look of a possessed ventriloquist’s dummy. There are also full-color abstractions that parody Hans Hofmann and Jackson Pollock, politically charged cold-war collages, and a number of radially symmetrical kaleidoscopic prints that serialize images of clowns or burlesque dancers to perversely mannered effect. In a work from ca. 1963, THE WORLD, ALL OUT OF SHAPE is the scrawled caption to a luminous blob floating against Weegee’s trademark burnt black background. In its sustained attack on material conventions and notions of taste, Weegee’s late work might be understood as an effort to both enact and depict this vision of a world of misrule.