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MASS HYSTERIA: THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF WEEGEE

It is not enough to be exceptionally mad, licentious, and fanatical in order to win a great reputation; it is still necessary to arrive on the scene at the right time.

—Voltaire

Paparazzi are notoriously ruthless characters who trade in visual exposure and derision. In the photographs taken by Weegee for the New York tabloids of ca. 1935-45, those paparazzo effects of sensationalism and impudence are crossed with laughter, which destabilizes everything. Though his methods are often expeditious in themselves, they are so charged by conflicting drives as to produce strikingly incongruous emotional content. His freelance crime scenes often look comedic when they’re supposed to be forensic. Escaping by a hair from a burning building, people break down not from trauma, but in mirth. And what was it about being arrested that caused some suspects to smirk?

Weegee’s notion of funniness was

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