One of the artworks I especially appreciated being able to view during our “Night at the Museum” visit was an image I first observed and discussed with my small group – a photograph entitled “Wife of the Victim,” taken in the 1940s by the photographer known as Weegee. He was infamous for being the first person to arrive at a crime scene, accident or disturbance in order to capture sensational pictures to sell to newspapers (his predictive skills coined his name – a play on “ouija”).
What interested me was this intersection between what is considered a piece of art, documentation or commodity. When viewed in the context of the MHC art museum collection, at first my group members and I knew nothing more about the image than what was contained within the frame of the photograph, yet it did not appear to be staged or depict actors. Though it seemed to be a documentary image, we still had no qualms about categorizing it as “art.” Upon learning the photo’s true provenance, our examination of it shifted – because it was meant to be as dramatic as possible to fetch a good price and a good viewership from print media, we wondered the extent to which Weegee manipulated the framing and content of the image to increase the drama captured by the still. In my mind, knowing about this manipulation made the image even more “artful,” despite its dual role as a sort of commercial product. Perhaps this debate about the categorization of this photograph only contributes to its sense of drama.