Unaware photography: Weegee, Frank and Gilden


Look at the work of these three photographers and understand why they favour the ‘unaware’ method of taking photographs.

Weegee (1899-1968)

Born in Ukraine, Weegee (formerly known as Arthur Felig) came to New York with his parents in 1909. He worked in various jobs in the commercial photographic field until becoming a freelance press photographer in 1935. Best known for his graphic black-and-white images of crime and fire scenes he describes how he got his work:

What I did simply was this: I went down to Manhattan Police Headquarters and for two years I worked without a police card or any kind of credentials. When a story came over a police teletype, I would go to it. The idea was I sold the pictures to the newspapers. And naturally, I picked a story that meant something. (1)

Weegee. ‘The Joy of Living’ (c1940)

Weegee. ‘What to wear’ (in a fire) (1941)

Robert Frank (1924-2019)

The Swiss photographer Robert Frank moved to New York in 1947. Most famous for his seminal book ‘The Americans’ which was shot on a road trip around the states in the mid-1950s. Using an unobtrusive Leica rangefinder camera with a 35 mm lens his style was to capture the ordinariness of American life. Discussing his methods with SFMOMA in 2015 he said:

You have to be quick as a photographer, you have not to be noticed too much. (2)

One of Frank’s favourite photographs (below) from the book is the 1956 photograph of a couple laying in Alamo Square Park overlooking San Fransisco. He describes their look as being one which a photographer often gets from people when disturbed – he is an intruder.

I find this photograph fascinating because it was selected by Frank as one of only 83 images from a selection of over 27,000. And yet it is so imperfect – the highlights are blown, the horizontal isn’t straight, the couple cut off at the waist and shoulder. But he selected it for publication. This is an image of a couple and a photographer.

Frank. ‘San Fransisco’ (1956)

Bruce Gilden (1946)

Gilden is an American street photographer famed for his flash lit close-up images. I’m afraid my attitude towards his work is similar to my attitude to Dianne Arbus. I find them exploitative and unpleasant.

Gilden. ‘Jessica’, Overtown, Miami, Florida. (2017)


(1) Weegee, 1987. Weegee By Weegee – BOMB Magazine. [online] BOMB Magazine. Available at: <https://bombmagazine.org/articles/weegee/> [Accessed 2 April 2020].

(2) Frank, R., 2015. Robert Frank ยท SFMOMA. [online] Sfmoma.org. Available at: <https://www.sfmoma.org/artist/Robert_Frank/> [Accessed 2 April 2020].

Get In Touch

Send me an email and I'll get back to you asap.

Start typing and press Enter to search