Credit Weegee the…Daily Worker Photographer?
This week’s post comes from Caroline Partamian, who has been working as my Archival Assistant for the past few months. I hope you’ll enjoy her thought-provoking post on the identities of Daily Worker Photographers, which in part follows up on my post of last week regarding the process of discovering some of Weegee’s photographs in the Daily Worker Photographs Collection.
In my months of working as an Archival Assistant at NYU’s Tamiment Library, sorting through the photo morgue of the Daily Worker newspaper, the hand behind many of the photographs I’ve come across has both intrigued and escaped me. Many of the envelopes carrying the negatives in the collection are inscribed with the names of a few mysterious photographers who use initials or single names, such as P.A., Pete, and Art, in part due to the intense political surveillance at the time. Today we still recognize names like Gerda Taro and Robert Capa as forerunners of photojournalism (and no doubt this honor is well-deserved), but those involved with the Daily Worker are long forgotten and overlooked. The concealed identities of these photographers barely provide any context for the future researchers of who these individuals are, along with any notion of their personalities, aspirations, and work outside of the Daily Worker.
The notion of Cornell Capa’s “concerned photographer” comes to mind while processing the Daily Worker collection. The “concerned photographer” is used to describe the individual who demonstrates in their work a humanitarian impulse to use pictures to educate and change the world, not just to record it. The will of the Daily Worker photographers to be published without recognition, I think, is a great indicator of the concerned photographer, proving a person’s devotion to capturing important events in our history. Thousands of photographs documenting Communist and labor organizations’ activities were published without any clear attribution of who the composers behind the photographs are, and remain as such.
As I began to come to terms with the fact that individuals like P.A., Pete and Art would most likely be reduced to cryptic references in the Tamiment Daily Worker Finding Aid, the discovery of a unique series of photos in a folder entitled “Floods” led to the revelation of the true identity of one of these photographers. Though he may never have planned on being officially recognized for his photos of the events involving the 1937 Ohio-Mississippi River Flood published on the third page of the February 5th, 1937 issue of the newspaper, the now well-known Weegee, previously known as Arthur Fellig, is recognized this week as one of the Daily Worker’s concerned photographers.
We can largely attribute this find to Weegee’s current fame and wide accessibility to his body of work. Admittedly, this photograph becomes of interest to us because we have a greater knowledge of Weegee and his extensive cannon. Would this photo of seamen at Penn Station be forgotten if not for the fact that it was taken by “A. Fellig?” Probably, yes. At what point does a photo cross the line from recyclable news into memorable work? Weegee made a name for himself, stamping the back of his prints “Credit Photo by Weegee the Famous,” releasing the very well publicized book Naked City, which showcased his photographs of sensational crimes and NYC late night life, as well as taking photographs of beautiful women like Maila Nurmi (Vampira).
Pete and Art are mysterious individuals I would love to know more about, but likely never will. Because of Weegee’s signature name, we are able to attribute more credit to “A. Fellig” than “P.A.” However, our findings should not end here. There are many amazing photographs in the collection from talented photographers who may never, but should, be recognized, if not for their contributions to the Daily Worker but also for their contributions to photojournalism. Who knows, perhaps the work of Pete and Art could prove as significant as Weegee’s some day.
My hope is that anonymous individuals in the collection do get recognized by future researchers, even if they should remain anonymous. Though we may never have an idea of these photographers’ aspirations in photojournalism or work outside of the newspaper, their lenses have captured important moments in our country’s history. Although they lack Weegee’s nominal fame, these photographers’ contributions to photojournalism and American history are without value.