Simply Add Boiling Water

Allison and I went to the International Center of Photography today to see the Weegee exhibit. The two of us have a rather gruesome mindset in that we both love crime, the criminal mind, and murder. We love Dateline. We love anything that has to do with disappeared teenagers in the woods. We tune in. Regularly. We don’t know why we love these things. But we do. Allison remarked today, “I think there should be a show on the ID channel called ‘Blood Everywhere’ because in every show, someone says about a crime scene, “And there was blood everywhere.” Weegee was right up our alley.

The show is called MURDER IS MY BUSINESS.

Those words were emblazoned on a giant wall inside the lobby and Allison and I both burst out laughing when we saw it. Clearly we are in the right place. We took pictures of each other by the giant sign.

The exhibit was wonderfully done, and absolutely packed. I love New York. You think you have an innovative original idea (“Let’s do THIS”) and you show up and 300 New Yorkers have had the same idea. The photos were sometimes gruesome, crumpled bloody bodies, but there were many that were not gruesome at all. Weegee loved Coney Island and what it represented and took many photos of outrageously crowded beaches. There were also pictures of entire families sleeping out on fire escapes during the summer. A vision of New York that may be long past, but is also still relevant and present. Times Square has been cleaned up, but we still have crime and murder and rackets and heat waves with children running through fire hydrants. There were photos along all the walls and they were extraordinary. He would arrive at crime scenes sometimes before the police (he had a police radio), and would take pictures of the dead bodies lying in doorways, or of the victims’ families, swooning in despair. People caught in moments of naked grief. The pictures are still disturbing, still moving. You get a human feeling from them, a fellow human feeling. These were people who had just lost everything. It’s morbid to think of a flash camera going off in their faces at that moment, but it’s also important to look, to see, to remember. That’s what Weegee’s photos made me think of. In some of the spectator shots, there are disturbing instances of people grinning gleefully at the camera over the bloody dead body. The ugliness of human nature. The gawker in us.

There was also a recreation of his room, with his awesome battered Corona typewriter (I yearned to touch it), and also his camera, a giant apparatus with a flash larger than the entire contraption. I loved the objects.

Weegee also chased fires. He took pictures of screaming women looking up at burning buildings, of firemen escorting frightened elderly ladies down ladders.

This was my favorite photo in the entire exhibit. It is called “Simply Add Boiling Water”. Look at it closely. There are multiple levels of irony.

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11 Responses to Simply Add Boiling Water

  1. Jim Cappio says:

    I see the show is running until September 2, so I have time to get my act together to get down to New York for once, Hooray! Is it just his crime scene photography, or does it also have the wonderful grotesques that were such an obvious influence on Diane Arbus? Or the weird manipulations he did during his time in Hollywood that anticipate Lucas Samaras’s Photo-Transformations?

    And I’d love to know whether Peter Sellers really based Dr. Strangelove’s accent on Weegee’s.

    If this link works, it’ll point to one of my favorite grotesques:

  2. sheila says:

    Jim – not too much of his grotesques although there were two that stood out – two Bowery performers, ladies, fat, with their fat ankles stuffed into character shoes – giant hats, huge boobs, posing for the camera – and one a New Year’s Eve party with a midget named Shorty who was wearing diapers and a little New Year’s Eve hat – totally decadent shots. Interesting – my friend Allison referenced those photos and mentioned Diane Arbus! Most of them were dead bodies – the focus was on murder.

    It was a great show!

    • Jim Cappio says:

      That must have been Ethel, Queen of the Bowery. And Shorty! He’s in the New Yorker slideshow. Sammy’s-on-the-Bowery must have been the most incredible place.

  3. JPK says:

    I saw a Weegee exhibit years and years ago and have never forgotten it. I couldn’t find any good collections of his work in a book but that must have changed by now. I also love the ID channel way more than I should. My favorite is Disappeared although the current season doesn’t seem to be as good as the first two. Some very mysterious things going on out there!

  4. I too am in thrall to horrible “tru” news shows about people coming to terrible ends, esp. in the woods. Don’t know why either. (Stephen King says he reads this stuff, writes this stuff, basically to avoid coming to a terrible end in the woods.) If you haven’t seen the “News” segment of Norm MacDonald’s standup “Me Doing Standup” (it’s not available on Youtube, but maybe it’ll come back on TV sometime soon), I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll love it, because it’s all about those shows, and it’s brilliant. It’s all about some woman named Janice who’s missing…

    • sheila says:

      Jincy – my favorite part of your comment is this part: “esp. in the woods”. It made me laugh out loud. I totally get it. Yes. Dead people missing in the woods? I’m in.

  5. allison says:

    What a fun day. And it’s nice to know that there are at least a couple other people like us who are unaplogetic enthusiasts of true crime.
    Two of my favorite sentences, when uttered in tandem are:
    “The following program may contain material that is unsuitable for some viewers. Parental discretion is advised.”

  6. Milt says:

    Wow, nothing about Elvis today! But you did wake me up and I am looking at some of his movies that I had discounted in the past, and am gaining more respect for him.

    There’s a very interesting movie based on Weeggee called The Public Eye, with Joe Pesci giving a very good performance as the Weegee character and also starring Barbara Hershey. It’s available on the Internet.

    (Sheila, your web site is getting me very frustrated. With all the photos and film clips it takes forever to download and sometimes it just freezes my computer. Can anything be done about this? I look forward to reading your blogs because I often learn a great deal from you.)


  7. sheila says:

    Milt – I’m sorry to hear that about freezing of computer. I’m not sure what to say or do – it doesn’t freeze mine. Because of my trip to Memphis there are certainly more photos on the main page than there would be normally – so as those posts move off the front page, maybe things will get back to normal?

    Very glad to hear you’re revisiting some of Elvis’ movies. The later ones, which were REALLY ignored by critics, are some of his best and most interesting. Stay Away Joe, Live a Little, Trouble with Girls – not great films or anything, but he is loose loose loose in these movies, funny as hell. He’s really unleashed.

    Yes, I saw that Weegee movie!!

  8. Milt says:

    Regarding photography, there is a big, over-sized book called New York Exposed, which contains 80 years of selected photographs from the Daily News, most of which are extraordinary. It also features a fascinating introduction by Pete Hamill. I got it through the library, but it’s also available on Amazon.

    I also would like to recommend another book of a different sort. A publisher here in Seattle has taken on the project of issuing the complete syndicated daily strips of Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Each book will contain two years’ worth of comic strips. The first book has been issued, called Pogo Through the Wild Blue Yonder, and it is wonderful, marvelous, beautiful and incredibly hilarious. (the strip got very political in later years) I don’t know if Pogo means anything to you. If he does, you will eat this up, and if he doesn’t that’s a big reason to take a look at this book.


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