What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

May 28, 2018 Issue

The piece in this week’s issue I enjoyed most is Thomas Mallon’s “Shots in the Dark,” a review of Christopher Bonanos’s Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous. Mallon approaches Weegee from various angles – voyeur, exhibitionist, street photographer, artist. He calls him a “night-crawling creature of newsprint.” He notes that Weegee staged some of his pictures. But he also says,

There were plenty of occasions when circumstances arranged themselves without need of manipulation—ones Weegee recognized for their unlikely, organic beauty, and took pains to capture before they could disappear from his viewfinder. “Extra! Weegee!” reproduces his photograph of a church fire on West 122nd Street, where the water arcs made by several fire hoses appear to be flying buttresses, permanent parts of the structure they’ve just come to save. In a nighttime picture, a thin man near a lamppost looks like one of Giacometti’s elongated sculptures. A shot through the open doors of a paddy wagon reveals two men on opposite sides of the van’s spare tire, covering their faces with hats; the result is a comic mystery and a sort of Mickey Mouse silhouette, in which their hats look like ears.

My favorite passage in Mallon’s piece describes the transformative power of Weegee’s art:

With flashbulbs, and even their riskier, flash-powder antecedent, he was able to own and preserve the instant when—Fiat lux!—he spun the world a hundred and eighty degrees. For a split second, the immigrant scrapper could be God, or, at least, Lucifer.

“Shots in the Dark” is an excellent appreciation of Weegee’s gritty, grisly aesthetic. I enjoyed it immensely. 

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