Weegee’s Unique Angle on Pinup Photography

We are very pleased to post this write-up by Francesca Altamura, who started an internship with the Photographs department this summer. Francesca has spent time curating and contributing to the department’s Tumblr, Photophilia, and wrote this nod to Weegee in tandem with several other photographs of women we’ve seen on Tumblr recently:

Weegee, Untitled (Bettie Page being photographed), silver print, circa 1955. 
Sold in an October 18, 2011 auction of Fine Photographs

This is not the typical celebrity portrait known to the everyday magazine reader. Instead, this image presents the subjective portrait style of American photographer Weegee, also known as Arthur Fellig (1899-1968), the “satirical snapshot” photographer. In Untitled (Bettie Page being photographed), 1955, Weegee ironically captures the faces of the paparazzi themselves, turning them into the objectified focus of his image, rather than fixating on Bettie Page as she is captured by their numerous camera lenses.

This photograph is not in any way conventionally framed, as Page, the American model best known for her 1950s pinup photographs, is seen modeling as a slew of onlookers photograph her scantily clad self. Page, with strictly her backside showing, takes up only half of the photographic frame, while the other half intimately captures the ogling eyes and hungry camera lenses of the male paparazzi.

Who is Weegee’s camera lens really directed at? The numerous photographers gawking at Page, or the faceless Page herself? Weegee’s image encapsulates a vernacular playfulness through his atypical compositional framing, turning the viewer’s attention to the usually unphotographed paparazzo instead of the usually photographed celebrity.