Saturday, February 09, 2008

Weegee in Cardiff

In 1963 Weegee, creator of Naked City (1945), came to Cardiff to give a talk on his photographic technique. His lecture which was free to the public was held at the Royal Hotel on St Mary Street. At 7pm Weegee (real name Arthur Fellig) greeted his Welsh audience wearing a furry Russian hat. He had just returned from Moscow where he had been on an extensive lecture tour.

Although famed for documenting life on New York's tough lower East Side Weegee had by this stage of his career completely changed his photographic style. His work had become more consciously artful and he now specialised in creating distorted portraits of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Salvador Dali and Liz Taylor. He also did prismatic shots including one of Shirley Bassey which showed her face repeated 8 times in a circle.

Smoking a cigar the 62-year-old legend explained how he achieved these effects and kept his audience amused with wisecracks delivered in his heavy Brooklyn accent. He modestly told them he could do things with a camera that nobody else alive could do. He spoke for over half an hour. It must have been wonderful for his Welsh fans to have been in the presence of one of the best street photographers of all time.

Recently I was flicking through the online portfolio of one of today's finest exponents of the art of street photography - Cardiff-based Maciej Dakowicz. Amidst his incredible snapshots of Cardiff's white hot night life, I came across this atmospheric picture of the Royal Hotel where Weegee once gave his talk.