Berenice Abbott’s Naked City

The Hollywood cinematographer William H. Daniels shot the great noir film Naked City in 1948. It’s known as the first to be filmed on the actual streets of New York instead of in studio sets back in Hollywood.

He and the production team took their research seriously and it obviously included Berenice Abbot’s book Changing New York. This was her monumental project documenting the city as it was in the thirties.

The look of the film and the way it depicts New York is much closer to Abbott’s vision than Weegee’s, whose book of photographs gave the film its name. Most of the movies’ scenic shots are in long shots, like Abbott’s, whereas Weegee worked up close, going for the human interest, the tabloid headline.

On the left, William H Daniels New York, and on right New York by Berenice Abbott.

.Does Weegee’s style appear anywhere today? It does, on the leering scopophilia of TV shows like CSI.

See my other posts on this subject, William H Daniels’ Naked City, Berenice Abbot’s Changing City and Those faces, those suits


William H. Daniel’s Naked City


Click on these images to see New York in 1948.

They show the city just after World War II, but just before the prosperity boom of the 1950s; it’s a hardworking city, energetic and unpretentious. The images are by William H. Daniels, whose work, you might agree, resembles that of Weegee and Berenice Abbott, both photographers of Gotham City at that time.

But Daniels was not a still photographer like Weegee and Abbott, he was a Hollywood cinematographer who received an Oscar for this work. These are stills from the 1948 movie The Naked City which was shot on location in New York.

In 1945 Weegee had published a book of his press photos of murderers, drunks and corpses and called it The Naked City. Hollywood producer Mark Hellinger, who had been a columnist in New York, bought the title from Weegee intending to make the movie with a similar degree of grittiness. He determined to shoot it on location in the city which was almost unknown at that time when most movies where made on the studio backlot in Hollywood. It gave the film a surprising sense of reality, like a documentary. The movie was a hit.

Compare William H. Daniels’ images with Weegee photographs here, and Berenice Abbott photographs here.

See my other posts on this subject, Berenice Abbot’s Changing City , Berenice Abbott’s Naked City and Those faces, those suits.