When I was 14 or 15 years old, my brother took me to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to see an exhibition of photographs by an immigrant named Arthur Felig who went by the street name of Weegee, and whose photos showed the gritty side of New York. Using one of those heavy Speed Graphic cameras with the big flash bulbs, Weegee would hang around a police precinct and when a call came in about a murder or some other criminal event, he would often get to the scene before the cops, shoot a picture and sell it to one of the city’s tabloids where it would usually appear the next day.
Weegee’s subjects were everyone and anyone, from the Park Avenue society dowager arriving for a banquet at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to homeless men and women sleeping in Central Park. But if there was one subject which showed up again and again in his work, it was pictures of shooting victims who lying there in the street, often surrounded by the cops who usually followed Weegee to the scene. Here are some of ‘New York’s Finest’ standing around a shooting victim and notice that none of the cops appears to be particularly concerned or upset.
I was reminded of Weegee last week when I took a look at a website, It Takes Us, which is the handiwork of a professional photographer named Joe Quint. The website is contains a collection of videos, testimonies and what Quint calls the ‘faces of gun violence,’ which are portraits of people who have either been victims or connected to victims shot by guns. If you haven’t yet seen this remarkable portfolio, put me on hold for a minute, click the link above and take a look.
Quint was reared on Long Island, went to Temple University and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife and kids. He’s had a camera in his hand since he was four years old, his work clearly demonstrating that he’s a master of his craft. He joined Everytown but then decided to construct this website because as he says, he had reached a ‘tipping point’ in which he could no longer justify his own inaction in the face of the ongoing carnage which claims more than 30,000 lives every year. Along with this venue, Quint has also contributed articles and narratives to NBC, PBS, Huffington Post among others, as well as our friends at The Trace.
The reason I made the connection between Weegee and Joe Quint is, first of all, they are both artists who use a camera rather than a paint and brush. But the ability to convey more than just some pictorial details about their subjects is what sets them apart. In this respect, if you compare the work of both men about the same subject – gun violence – what you come away with his how gun violence has changed.
When Weegee was running around Manhattan taking pics of this gun-violence and that, virtually every one of the individuals lying in their own blood had been shot because they were gangsters and mob guys for whom ending up with a bullet in the head was an occupational hazard, or better said, occupational requirement for the kind of lives these wise guys led. The shootings caught by Weegee weren’t random, they didn’t happen because there were so many guns around, and most of all, they didn’t involve kids.
Joe Quint’s gallery, on the other hand, should be understood as reflecting how gun violence has changed. Because even though every once in a great while some connected guy is found in the trunk of his car, every day more than 200 people are killed or injured because someone else points a gun at them and goes – bam! – and too many of these victims are simply people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If today’s gun violence was like the gun violence in Weegee’s time, we’d be way ahead.