When Ruth Snyder was electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison in 1928, New York Daily News
photographer Tom Howard was there--with a miniature camera he'd hidden under the cuff of his pants. The resulting snapshot made the front page the next morning (under the headline "DEAD!") and provoked fierce controversy among those wondering if tabloid journalism had finally gone too far. But, as Luc Sante points out in his introduction to New York Noir
, a selection of pictures from the Daily News
archives, the tabloids "retailed exclamation points"--Snyder in the electric chair was merely an extreme example of imagery that was a regular staple of the paper's coverage.
Many of the photos in New York Noir are not for the squeamish: corpses in the street or slumped in their car seats appear regularly, as do battered and bloodied criminals and suspects. But the power of these stark images is unmistakable--they are, as the book's title indicates, the raw material for the gritty vision of urban life that film noir popularized. For some people, tabloid crime photos are synonymous with Arthur "Weegee" Fellig; only one of his pictures graces these pages, however, and the other photographers represented here (many identified only by last name or no name at all) demonstrate that his reputation relies as much on promotional hustle as on artistic merit. Whenever possible, archivist William Hannigan supplies background information on the people and incidents in the pictures--but it is the images themselves, rather than the stories, that will stick in the reader's mind. --Ron Hogan
About the Author
is an archivist who has been editing the Daily News
photo library for three years.Luc Sante
, author of Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York
, has written extensively on both New York City and photography.