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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

New York City, a concrete jungle that never sleeps, a melting pot of dreams and despair, a place where the extraordinary hides around every corner. And who better to capture its raw essence than Weegee, the photographer who turned his lens on the city’s underbelly, revealing a world unseen by most?

Weegee, born Usher Fellig, wasn’t interested in the glamorous or the staged. Instead, he chased the sirens, arriving at crime scenes before the police, his camera a witness to the city’s most dramatic moments. His photos are gritty, sometimes shocking, but always deeply human. They pull back the curtain on a New York City that’s both exhilarating and heartbreaking.

Looking at Weegee’s work is like stepping into a time machine, transported back to the 1930s and 40s. We see the faces of ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances – a couple embracing amidst the chaos of a tenement fire, a woman weeping over a loved one lost to violence, children sleeping on a fire escape to escape the summer heat. There’s a rawness to these images, a sense of immediacy that draws you in and refuses to let go.

Weegee wasn’t afraid to show the dark side of the city. His photos of crime scenes are unflinching, exposing the violence that lurked beneath the surface. A body sprawled on the sidewalk, a victim of a gangland shooting. A car crash, its mangled wreckage a testament to the fragility of life. These images are a stark reminder of the dangers that existed in the shadows of the city’s bright lights.

But Weegee’s New York wasn’t just about darkness and despair. He also captured moments of joy, humor, and even absurdity. A group of friends laughing hysterically on the Coney Island boardwalk. A man asleep on a park bench, his hat pulled over his eyes, oblivious to the world around him. A couple stealing a kiss in a crowded subway car. These images remind us that even in the toughest of times, New Yorkers found ways to laugh, love, and live.

He saw beauty in the faces of everyday people, the ones often overlooked by society. A tired waitress taking a break in a diner, her eyes reflecting the weariness of a long shift. A group of children playing stickball in the street, their faces filled with pure joy. A homeless man bundled up against the cold, his expression a mix of defiance and resignation. These photos are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, the ability to find hope and dignity even in the most difficult of circumstances.

#1 Nobody works on Labor Day, 1939.

Nobody works on Labor Day, 1939.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#2 A crowd at a boxing match, 1943.

A crowd at a boxing match, 1943.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#3 Ice-covered firemen at a Coney Island New Year’s Eve fire, 1940.

Ice-covered firemen at a Coney Island New Year's Eve fire, 1940.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#4 A plane almost takes a nosedive, 1942.

A plane almost takes a nosedive, 1942.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#5 A flood stops the Bronx subway, 1941.

A flood stops the Bronx subway, 1941.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#6 Buddy the bulldog hangs out among the milk bottles in the lobby, 1940.

Buddy the bulldog hangs out among the milk bottles in the lobby, 1940.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#7 St. Martins Church, 1939.

St. Martins Church, 1939.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#8 A fireman holding Torahs saved from a fire, 1943.

A fireman holding Torahs saved from a fire, 1943.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#9 Military personnel wave from the portholes of a ship, 1945.

Military personnel wave from the portholes of a ship, 1945.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#10 The Critic, 1945.

The Critic, 1945.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#11 A black cat found in a mailbox with pretzels and clams, 1941.

A black cat found in a mailbox with pretzels and clams, 1941.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#12 Keeping Cool, 1945.

Keeping Cool, 1945.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#13 Henrietta Torres and her daughter Ada outside a tenement fire, 1939.

Henrietta Torres and her daughter Ada outside a tenement fire, 1939.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#14 It’ll be a Pleasure, 1943.

It’ll be a Pleasure, 1943.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#15 Sailors celebrate VJ Day, 1945.

Sailors celebrate VJ Day, 1945.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#16 Crash Victim, 1942.

Crash Victim, 1942.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#17 Weegee the Noted Photographer, 1946.

Weegee the Noted Photographer, 1946.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#18 ‘Time Is Short’ in Broome Street, Little Italy, NYC, 1942.

‘Time Is Short’ in Broome Street, Little Italy, NYC, 1942.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#19 A crowd gathers around the body of a man killed in a fracas, 1939.

A crowd gathers around the body of a man killed in a fracas, 1939.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#20 A fire in the Ameko building near Brooklyn Bridge, 1943.

A fire in the Ameko building near Brooklyn Bridge, 1943.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#21 The Face of New York on Invasion Day, 1944.

The Face of New York on Invasion Day, 1944.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#22 Brooklyn School Children See Gambler Murdered in Street.

Brooklyn School Children See Gambler Murdered in Street.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#23

A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#24

A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#25

A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#26

A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#27

A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#28 A car and truck collide in Brooklyn, 1947.

A car and truck collide in Brooklyn, 1947.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#29 Under the Third Avenue Elevated, 1938.

Under the Third Avenue Elevated, 1938.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#30 Arrests made during a gambling raid, 1942.

Arrests made during a gambling raid, 1942.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#31 Water main burst uproots Madison Avenue, 1945.

Water main burst uproots Madison Avenue, 1945.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#32 Victory in Europe day celebrated in Chinatown, 1945.

Victory in Europe day celebrated in Chinatown, 1945.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#33 Caffé Bella Napoli, Mulberry Street, 1944.

Caffé Bella Napoli, Mulberry Street, 1944.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#34 Act of Love at the Astor Theatre, Times Square, 1954.

Act of Love at the Astor Theatre, Times Square, 1954.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#35 The Ham n Egg on Broadway, 1950s.

The Ham n Egg on Broadway, 1950s.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#36 The Critic, 1943.

The Critic, 1943.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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#37 “Unusual Crime”, 1940.

“Unusual Crime”, 1940.

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A Photographic History of New York City from 1930s-1950s through the Lens of Weegee

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Written by Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark is a historian and writer who is passionate about sharing the stories and significance behind historical photos. He loves to explore hidden histories and cultural contexts behind the images, providing a unique insight into the past.

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