Wegee photo of a man about to be executed wearing a hood with a Westinghouse logo on it

This execution brought to you by Westinghouse? I'd have guessed that Thomas "DC current is safer" Edison was behind it, but this fellow is in the gas chamber, not on an electric chair.

From the Getty Images description: circa 1945: An American prisoner, sentenced to death, is strapped into a chair in the gas chamber. The black hood carries a Westinghouse Electric Company logo.

See full image here

Notable Replies

  1. I hope somebody gave that "branding expert" a raise.

  2. neilk says:

    Surely this photo isn't what it seems to be. Cameras have never been allowed in (American) execution chambers in the age of the electric chair, much less after this famous incident in 1928. Perhaps it's a wax dummy?

    edit: according to this blog, it's a wax figure of Caryl Chessman (which would date the photo to 1960 or later).

    edit 2: downthread I found another photo of the same wax figure (sans hood).

  3. neilk says:

    It is apparently a wax statue of Caryl Chessman in the gas chamber at San Quentin, put on display at Madame Tussaud's in London in 1960 (here are a couple of old articles about the wax figure). The time period fits with Weegee being active in Europe. Doesn't explain the hood, though.

  4. Why is it slander to note that Wegee was an artist and was perfectly capable of making his own statements -- and in fact was known to have staged photos at times, as any photographer does? Unless Wegee himself stated that this one was documentary rather than artistic, there's no good reason to believe it has to be one or the other.

    The camera always lies -- if in no other way, by capturing only a small piece of what's going on, at a specific instant, selected to reflect the photographer's ideas of what's interesting and/or meaningful. Further lies generally occur in the darkroom as it is cropped and burnt-in and otherwise adjusted to clarify the photographer's intent.

    A good photographer uses those lies to make statements, and often those statements are truths -- but they don't have to be, and sometimes the truths are figurative rather than literal. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it does mean you need to know where and when and how a photo was taken before you can be sure of what you're seeing.

    If Weeee said this was reportage, I'll believe it -- but that statement would probably also explain why this situation arose. Without that statement, it seems so blatently unlikely that I have to believe that someone (NOT Wegee himself) has misdescribed it, and that it was a created scene -- whether for the photo, or from a dramatic production, or a protest, or whatever. Note that some of these would make it a wholly legitimate piece of photojournalism, but would invalidate the description we have of it.

  5. IMB says:

    When an image is staged, ie. a portrait, it is considered okay provided that it represents an editorial. I'm not disputing that photographers may set something up for effect, and call it news, but I wouldn't go as far as to say that it is common practice. You will lose your job and reputation rather quickly as a photojournalist if you do that and there will be a multitude waiting in the wings to take your place.

    I think that, in the past, much more manipulation was acceptable in image creation for news organizations, like setting up the composition, burning and dodging, etc. That is seriously frowned upon now. Basically, you have the ability to crop and color correct, maybe adjust tone, but beyond that you can be in deep shit for altering and creating news.

    And I want to say that I love Wegee no matter what he did.

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