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Weegee

The Critic

1943

Artist

Weegee (1899-1968)

Title

The Critic

Date

1943

Medium

Gelatin silver print

Dimensions

Sheet: 11 × 13 7/8 in. (27.9 × 35.2 cm) Image: 10 1/2 × 12 1/2 in. (26.7 × 31.8 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Denise Rich

Accession number

96.90.2

Object Label

Although he was known for photographs that appeared spontaneous, Weegee’s The Critic was the result of a carefully orchestrated scenario. On the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera House’s sixtieth season, Weegee brought along a famous regular from Sammy’s, a bar that he frequented on the Bowery. He plied his accomplice with cheap wine and coaxed her into this photograph of two of New York’s most famous high society benefactors, Mrs. George W. Kavenaugh and Lady Decies. Weegee’s trademark explosive flash, which allowed him to photograph at night and gave a floodlit effect to the exposure, bleached out skin tones and set up stark contrasts between the white-clad rich and the grubby poor. To further intensify his manufactured confrontation, he cropped the print to eliminate sideline spectators. When Acme Newspictures ran the photograph, a caption was added that turned its sardonic commentary on ostentatious wealth into moral indignation: “She is aghast at the quantity of diamonds in evidence at a wartime opening of the Met, but the bejeweled ladies are aware only of Weegee’s clicking camera.”

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