“Weegee: Murder Is My Business” — mayhem on the streets of New York and the man who captured it all

Step into the main gallery at the Ryerson Image Centre and you’ll be transported back to gritty 1940s New York through the images of freelance photojournalist, Weegee.

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Weegee: Murder Is My Business (installation view), 2015 © Riley Snelling, Ryerson Image Centre

With his large Speed Graphic film camera, beige felt fedora, and press pass, Weegee captured iconic photos of a time when New York City was rampant with violence. The exhibition, Weegee: Murder Is My Business, showcases these high-contrast, black and white photos of murders and the public’s reactions to these terrible crimes that newspaper editors would be wary about publishing today.

Paul Roth, director of the RIC, says he was not only fascinated by the tabloid journalism photography, but also by how Weegee made a living off of misfortune. “This show put the photos, the magazine, and the newspapers together,” he said. “We like to show the context the photographs were made in so that people learn more about what their original use was.”

The exhibition does just that, taking you behind the scenes with Weegee. Multiple touch screens are placed throughout the exhibit, giving you a glimpse of Weegee’s cluttered apartment where he listened intently to his police-band radio receiver. You can hear Weegee’s New Yorker accent in an interview where he explains how as he always tried to “humanize the story” as a photographer, and see his photos published in magazines and newspapers like the Daily News and PM Weekly. You’ll even find a framed pay stub from LIFE magazine, compensating him $35 for covering two murders.

Caption: Weegee: Murder Is My Business (installation view), 2015 © Riley Snelling, Ryerson Image Centre

Weegee: Murder Is My Business (installation view), 2015 © Riley Snelling, Ryerson Image Centre

The travelling exhibition came from New York’s International Center of Photography, which houses the Weegee Archive. The exhibition’s curator and former chief curator at ICP, Brian Wallis, said in a press release that although Weegee was seen as eccentric and naïve, he was still an important figure as a Depression-era documentary photographer.

While the images are graphic, Roth says he hopes the public will see the exhibition because it addresses crime in a city, which is something that everyone has to deal with. “Weegee is kind of an iconic figure that we can look at to see not only what’s changed about journalism and how we experience violent crime, but also to understand our own relationship to these things,” he said.

The exhibition is open to the public from Oct. 14 to Dec. 13.

Featured image courtesy of Weegee: Murder Is My Business (installation view), 2015 © Riley Snelling, Ryerson Image Centre