A Retrieval in Motion

 Photo Courtesy of The International Center of Photography https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/objects/police-officer-and-assistant-removing-body-of-reception-hospital-ambulance

Photo Courtesy of The International Center of Photography
https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/objects/police-officer-and-assistant-removing-body-of-reception-hospital-ambulance

I’m not sure what to do with the pieces that are left behind. The captured frames. Moments in time, evidence. I look at this still frame of the scene of a crime, and I wonder why Weegee captured what he did: A car sticks out from the water it sinks into with white lines wrapped around its top. Morris Linker sticks out from the water he sinks into. A police officer’s white hands wrap around his collar, pulling flesh out of water. Still, cold, dead. So Weegee takes a picture, keeps him in the water. His black jacket blends into black water, white face, white hands, white lines hoisting them up. There’s a beauty to the symmetry of it—of his body’s retrieval. The way the car and the rowboat and the police boat split the picture into three. The white wires create a path for the viewer to follow, a path that isn’t just an ambulance driver who swerved to avoid a pedestrian on Welfare Island, struck another person and plunged into the East River.

Weegee says, “People are so wonderful that a photographer has only to wait for that breathless moment to capture what he wants on film… and when that split second of time is gone, it’s dead and can never be brought back.”

Weegee captures what he wants. Leaves Morris Linker half-submerged, he is dead and can never be brought back. But, he can stay there. Weegee likes to keep them still. He says “the dead are easy to photograph because they stay still.” And yet there is unmistakable motion in this image. The car, the man, moving up from the water, white lines, white hands pull at them. Ripples in dark water, a man in rowboat pulling at white wire, a man in rowboat pulling at dark collar. Police. New York City. No 4. Reception Hospital. The photographer has captured them to show us the way they must have moved up and out of the frame, but in doing so he keeps them there. So that we can remember them. Remember that moment. Was Weegee the only one who saw it? A witness? Who is a witness? What happens when the only way to show that the figures were moving is to capture them, keep them still? When I write, do the ripples and the pulling and the dark water dark collar, white hands, white lines, show their motion or keep still? I like to think I’m portraying moments, images, pieces of lives, pieces of death in my writing, but I’m not sure if I’m gluing pieces together or pulling them apart. Pulling flesh out of water. --Eliza McDonough

 

Eliza McDonough is a senior at Dartmouth College, from Los Angeles, CA. She studies English and Creative Writing.