Publication Date: June 5, 2018
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for the Best Biography of 2018
Photographer Arthur Fellig had a second sense as to where emergency services would be and arrived in such a timely fashion that he nicknamed himself “Weegee.” The Austrian immigrant had an unflinching eye for the gritty side of life. Weegee’s flare for the experimental paved the way for photographers of the future and his outlandish personality makes for a life lived on ones own terms. Bonanos shows us the manic man behind the lens.
Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous is the story of a man born in what is now Ukraine who immigrated with his family to New York and rose from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the heap. Bonanos shows us a much mythologized man (often by himself – a master self-promoter), warts and all. Often, when writing the story of this sort of character, the narrative can come off at extremes – demeaning or deifying the character. In the case of Arthur Felig, there’s a clear picture of a man who always felt at odds with his world and sought to rise above those who might look down their noses at him. The author conveys an empathy to the reader for a life not easily lived.
Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous is appropriately illustrated with Felig’s work. Bonanos highlights the history through which the photographer lived in New York City and how the changes dictated the course of his career. There is a sense of place as well as person in this spectacular biography. I’ll admit, as a Midwesterner, I may have seen some of Felig’s work but knew nothing about him. As a lover of history and outrageous people, not knowing about Felig was a real miss that I’m glad has been corrected.
Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous was just a joy to read. Written with humor, there’s not a point in Weegees life that isn’t fascinating which isn’t to say that the book wrote itself. Challenging this author is a lack of written content from the subject himself. It is clear that he spoke through his photography and art is always open to interpretation. Weegee is clearly established as an inveterate misogynist. One might call him a man of his time. Faults and glory, the reader leaves Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous really feeling as though they got to know this enigma of a man.
If you’re still wondering, I found this book delightful. I am, however; that kid who, at 10, worked her way through the biography shelves at the library. If you’re looking for a great weekend read, pick up Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous today. It was just a great book.
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