My major in college was TV and broadcasting, and I did what the teachers taught me to do. I almost didn’t need to think about what I was doing, because I just needed to do a certain assignment about a certain subject before a certain time. Later I began to study filmmaking in SFAI, and suddenly I found that I could do whatever I wanted to do here. There is no such a thing as a textbook here. There are no specific requirements about each project. I was free out of blue. However, what should I do? How should I do it?
Then I realized that I wanted to do a lot. There are many things interesting in the world. Then I just began. I tried to do documentary films, narrative films, MTV and even advertisements. Later I tried to do documentary photography. After trying so many things, I found that I might be interested in documentary film/photography the most.
Nonetheless, I faced the same question again. There are thousands of things in the world that I can document. And there are many ways I can document them. What should I do? How should I do it? Especially today, people can make videos and photos by their cell phone. And it’s not difficult to get a DSLR. What makes a filmmaker/photographer different? How can I build my own style?
Then it seems that I found my answer in front of Weegee’s show “Murder is my Business” in the trip to New York.
ICP, Weegee’s apartment
Weegee works for the press in New York City for many years. He takes a lot of photos in the crime scene. Sometimes he’s even earlier than the police to go there. There are many photojournalists in this business. So what makes Weegee different?
Firstly, Weegee is so into his project. Let’s take a look at his apartment; it’s really simple but unique. Shoes, camera and lights are on the floor; it shows that he’s ready to go to shoot at any time. Newspapers are on the wall; it shows that he selects the information all the time. Radio is near the bed; it shows that he pays attention to the updated news anytime. The old and simple bed shows that he might not care about his living condition. Also Weegee moves to an apartment across the police headquarter. So he can move right after or even before the police move.
Weegee self portrait in his bedroom
In fact, this room reminds me a lot about the days I was documenting the Occupy Movement. But I was not crazy enough. I have two bags always on the floor, one for camera, and the other for lens. I always have two fully charged batteries and two empty memory cards ready to go. The most warm cloths, hats, shoes and gloves are put together just in case I need to spend the whole night in Occupy. Two cell phones are charged. Chocolate and water are always in my bag. So are cash and a little knife. The most thing I do everyday is to check Twitter or Facebook to see what’s updated. Then I will always pick everything then go to get a cab to go to Occupy. But I always don’t have the guts to really live together or near the protesters. I am not taking what I am documenting as my business yet. Apparently, after Weegee lives in the place across the police department, murder becomes his business.
Other than passion, I think continuity is also significant. If Weegee just documents murder once or twice, he will never become who he is right now. As for me, once he decides to move close to the police, taking photos of murder has become a very important part of his life. It’s a life style. He might lose a lot. He can’t sleep well; he might remember the terrible images in the rest of his life. Also he might be in danger. But no matter what happens, I think it’s vital to build up a style and keep doing it. If you take one photo like this, it’s just a very good photo. But if you take a lot of photos like this, it’s a very incredible style.
Lastly, Weegee is much more than a photojournalist. There is a wall in ICP shows Weegee’s self-portraits. He dresses himself as detectives, photographers, or even victims. He has become a part of his project.
Weegee self portrait
What is my business? I will find it and keep doing it. That will be my style.
by Li CHEN