Reading Film and TV, photograph analysis of Weegee “Simply add Boiling Water”- by Danny Rothtein 2021

We asked our Temporary work experience assistant who is studying Film & TV to provide us with a sample of his Film and TV analysis work. Here is what he gave us.

Weegee Arthur Fellig Simply Add Boiling Water 1943 Weegee International Center of

Looking at the image entitled “Simply add Boiling Water” is to behold the tragically wry ironic composition of a felicitously shot photograph. In this photo we see a dramatic night-time fire engulfing what seems to be a kitchen product factory, in a presumably urban city, when distinguishing the establishment’s architecture and surroundings, such as the archetypal metropolitan street lamps and wane bridge on the horizon of the framework. The photo was shot by freelance street photographer Weegee in 1943 with intentionally sardonic humour, with the tiny firemen framed at the bottom of the photo across the foot of the building, toiling hard to extinguish the overwhelming fire all the way at the head of the building. At first glance, Weegee’s story becomes humorously clear, contrasting the small silhouette figurine firemen with the immense hazard slyly capturing the subtextual message of the kitchen factory being an ingredient for disaster itself. It is best distilled by the bitter frontal words displayed on the building almost centre frame reading, “simply add boiling water” adding a comical yet literal layer of predestined karma to an ill-fated situation.

Weegee’s photographs were often dingy stylized versions of reality; this one is no different, it’s his use of lighting here which resounds a certain lack of naturalness, that charges the very melodramatic power of his photo. Our eyes immediately focus on the subject matter of the situation close to centre frame; the hosing water attacking the building, the water which is the largest quantity of white in a photo of black seems to vaporize while hitting the building, and with close attention we can see steam around the building. The car lights and streetlamps work as our form of diegetic lighting illuminating the building, the steam in the air and rather importantly, the depth of frame within the image. Through these sources of lighting we can see further down the street in detail – this shows us the setting and how far back the building extends. The tone of the photo can be related to that of the film noir movies being produced at the time, the fatalistic and menacing nature of the centre frame building, with a strikingly shot composition that looks as if it was a still from a film noir movie.

The aspect of the photo, which I believe deserves the most praise and attention would be Weegee’s ability to turn a rather macabre dilemma into a witty snapshot of irony. The frantic hellish situation becomes tongue and cheek through a collaboration of thoughts and exploits from Weegee, expressionistically stylizing his photo to a cynical portrait that resembles something closer to a dark fantasy rather than what could have been a mundane reality. Perhaps Weegee’s interplay between fantasy and reality is what should be noted here using photographic techniques and methods to alter the viewers perception of a dire situation fabricating an iconic photo of intrepid satire.

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