Norma Devine -- 1944Back in the 1940's and 50's New York City's Noir Streets were trolled by a man who celebrated their very essence by use of his camera.
His name was Usher (Arthur) Fellig, but the world would come to know his simply as "Weegee".
Weegee seemed to have a knack for photographing the soul as well the body of his subjects. He seemed to find beauty in the grotesque, salvation in sadness and hope in desperation.
A hardboiled, old school newspaper man, Weegee was known to shoot his photos and then compose stories to accompany the pictures by way of an old typewriter he had in the trunk of his car. I suppose he'd sneer if anyone referred to him as a "photojournalist", the man preferred to be known as a freelance photographer.
One of Weegee's favorite hangouts was a bar in the Bowery known as "Sammy's". Weegee often called it a 'poor man's Stork Club'. Here he found life and joy in the dredges of society. Enough barflies and down-and-outs to populate several Tom Wait's songs; Sammy's was the place that the photographer went too to escape some of the more brutal aspects of his job ... perhaps after a night of shooting accident victims or murder scenes, he'd trudge on in to this watering hole full of Damon Runyon characters and maybe lose himself in their twisted beauty.
Sammy's was the place that Weegee shot the photo of Norma Devine whom he dubbed, "The Mae West of Sammy's". In Norma's face one sees the unmitigated joy of life as she, no doubt, is belting out some bawdy number that had the regulars at the bar shaking the roof off the place. More than this, though, Norma's face almost seems to have an innocence to it, child-like; a Rubenesque little girl playing with mommy's make up and singing into the mirror.
It's a beautiful shot.
I wonder what color that shiny blouse of hers was, and what color that amazing hat really was ... I also wonder who Norma Devine really was. That photo tells the viewer so much and so little. It's as if Weegee brought his own version of Mona Lisa to momentary celluloid life.
Weegee died in 1968, at the age of 69, after a life of taking photos, marrying beautiful women, making movies and serving as a consultant on several motion pictures (including "Dr. Strangelove"). I wonder if on his deathbed, he had any final visions ... visions of seedy bars and bawdy dames, visions of low-lives in high heels...
...Visions of Sammy’s and Norma Devine.
The Man and His Tool.