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The Man Who Loved Weegee

What's the best way to get the editor's attention?

Make sure it bleeds and leads.

The Man Who Loved Weegee by Tim Gerstmar



Dear editor:

A work of art should stand on its own, but you need a little background here. My grandfather gave me a book of Weegee’s photographs my first year in art school. He wrote a note on the title page: Remember, beauty and terror always go hand in hand. I fell in love with Weegee’s work. It isn’t just the brutality of his crime scenes that makes them so damned gorgeous, it’s the expressions on peoples’ faces captured at the exact right moment. They’re like little windows on a bygone era. Funny how you just can’t recreate the look of a certain historical period, no matter how hard you try. I am not Weegee, but I always wanted to do work that had the same emotional, timeless feeling. I applied for photojournalism jobs with your paper when you guys were on top, but I always got those same expressionless looks and diplomatic responses that made me fucking want to vomit. “Thank you, but these just aren’t for us.”

I kept at it, despite the rejections. I tried to emulate some of Weegee’s portraits. The one that springs to mind is that gorgeous photo of the circus clown taking a nap in his folding chair in front of a steamer chest, an oily smear soaked into the canvas behind his head, a can of turpentine by his feet. There are no brains spread across the floor, no expressions of disbelief or bullet holes. It made me wonder what it was that still gave it that special, Weegee quality. It was the fragility of life in the cradle of death, of sleep, a mortal being caught off guard in a vulnerable moment. Poetic, right? I tried my own shit; candid photos of homeless people sleeping and that sort of thing, but they never looked right. Not only that, but the subjects usually demanded money. I got a few nice shots, but they lacked that vulnerable humanness caught at just the right moment.

I kept thumbing through the musty smelling pages of that beaten hardcover enraptured at the moments in time of a girl with her arm torn off lying on a bridge, a frozen grimace of pain on her face, a sailor holding her still attached arm up, as if declaring some sort of macabre victory, giving her dignity. Death and nostalgia, the body frozen forever after passing through death’s door, still the person but becoming something else.

I still use a film camera. Fuck that digital shit. Real film is where it’s at. It’s the therapeutic click and spring of the shutter that I enjoy, that somehow really makes a great photograph. It’s a crime it took me so long to use my camera as skillfully as Weegee, but I finally have.

I hope you like the pics. I hate the word pics. It sounds cheap and takes the art out of it, but I know you condescending fuckers at the paper don’t speak the same language, so I’ll dumb it down for you. I never thought of doing this shit before and didn’t even think I was capable of it, but I surprised myself.

I met her at a costume party. I was dressed in a tweed suit and a bow tie, a fedora on my head. She was done up like a flapper chick with one of those long cigarette holders in her lips. It was perfect. I didn’t even know what I was gonna do, but she was shit-faced and I managed to get her in the car. How do you like the first photo from my suite? I fucking love the look of disbelief on her face – helped that we got stoned on some serious skunk first, because it made the fear extra real. The next two are great as well. The slightly out of focus, imbalanced compositions really capture her final frenzied moments perfectly. Call it artistic license! It was harder than it looks. I was careful not to damage her face and I didn’t want to have to reposition the body. I wonder if Weegee ever had to move a limb here and there to improve the composition? If he did, he was cheating! Think about that before criticizing my work. Look at the next one in the suite. Have you ever seen anything so perfect? Check out the questioning look in the eyes, like she wanted to know one last thing but couldn’t get an answer. Sure, it’s not exactly a Weegee, but crime scenes are like fingerprints, none are identical. The dead eyes never ask the same questions.

The next few are of the disposal, and one of me at 3 a.m., tweaking and freaking out. I look calm, right? Perfect Weegee material, because there’s that mystery behind the look! I was almost finished, but something was missing. Great art is never perfected; you gotta keep pushing right to the end! The suite needed one last installment. I’m relying on you guys to help me here. I’ve set up the tripod and the remote shutter release for this final self-portrait. I pray the rope catches me in the frame just right. I’m sure you’ll take photos, but for the suite to be perfect, you need mine. No cheating! I’m making everything easier for the cops and the judge and sparing a few assholes jury duty, so you can do me one fucking favor: take the roll down to Ricky’s - they still do film there - and develop it. Then print the article with my photos, in the right order. In case this goes against some sort of morals you’d like to pretend you have, I think your paper will sell more copies and regain some status with my work included. Great work takes a lifetime of dedication. Grandpa was right about beauty and terror going hand in hand. Get here before the cops do, and don’t mind the smell.

Tim Gerstmar is a writer and artist who specializes in crime, horror, and speculative fiction. Originally from Massachusetts, Tim has been teaching English in Asia for over a decade and is currently working in China. He has written for Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Linguistic Erosion, and Yesteryear Fiction. You can find his Bangkok crime novel THE GUNFIGHTERS on www.amazon.com.