NYC’s International Center of Photography
New York has some of the world’s best galleries and it can be quite a task just to decide which ones to visit. Having been to most of the bigger galleries on previous trips, my first stop this time was the International Center of Photography (ICP) in Midtown. Established in 1974, the ICP features work exploring the possibilities and limits of what can be captured through a photographer’s lens. The center also runs an extensive program of courses for budding and more experienced photographers.
What the ICP lacks in size, it more than makes up for in quality. The main exhibit, Weegee: Murder is My Business, running until September 2, 2012, features the work of photojournalist, “Weegee”, real name Arthur Fellig, who was a prominent news photographer during the 30s and 40s in New York City. He was renowned for arriving on crime scenes to capture perpetrators, victims and police in the immediate aftermath of violent crimes and accidents. His work gave viewers an intimate insight into the night-time pursuits of New York’s underworld. The documentary style and voyeuristic nature of his photographs drew the public into the gory details of crime scenes. His photographs were some of the first to be identified as what is now known as tabloid journalism.
Weegee’s unique style – a product of news cycle demands – is characterized by its focus on human drama, capturing the reactions of bystanders as well as the key players at each scene. A striking element of many of his photographs is that his subjects often seem to be in shock, or their mind clearly elsewhere as they seem unaware they are being photographed. Many bystanders are caught engaging in activities which are quite unexpected for those who have just witnessed, or been involved in, horrific crimes. Weegee’s use of the newly-invented flashbulb, also adds to the feeling that the subjects have been caught off-guard. As a viewer you feel like an impassive observer of the misfortune and criminality of NYC’s seedier neighbourhoods.
I found the most striking thing about the exhibit to be the contrast between Weegee’s images and the photos we see in contemporary media. Rarely do we see news photos portraying the most violent details of crimes. The images are more like what we would see on shows like CSI or Criminal Minds – victims covered in blood, police taking evidence at the scene and perpetrators shocked at being apprehended. The exhibit is a very interesting look into the first coverage of crimes in this manner – coverage that informs much of the modern crime dramas we see on television today.
If you happen to be in New York before September, the ICP is well worth a visit.