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Tire Inspection is typical of Weegee's work of the late 1930s--a facetious take on Depression-era images of the city's dispossessed, contemporary with Social Realist painting and the work of the Photo League. This homeless man settles for the night on the pavement outside A. C. Schwarz Automotive on 59th Street, the northern border of Hell's Kitchen. This was a rough area of the city; millions of refugees crowded there after the Civil War, followed over generations by violent youth gangs and organized crime. There Weegee often found pathetic subjects, like this destitute man sitting on a mat of crumpled paper. Dressed in dirty, tattered clothes, he has removed a shoe and a sock to massage his foot, presumably sore from walking the streets all day. His head is tipped forward and his features are hidden under his flat cap. The light color and round shape of the cap, along with the light color of his shirt and jacket lining, balance the large standpipe that emerges from the sidewalk. The highlighted arch of the pipe makes a visual pun on the exhausted slump of the figure. The unfortunate man is like the city's plumbing, the very infrastructure of New York. He sits in a shallow space, bounded by walls and pavement, before the windows of the closed shop advertising products and services wildly beyond his reach. Weegee often titled his photographs with the wit and irony of the tabloid headline. Since the subject sits directly beneath the Official Tire Inspection Station sign, it seems likely that the photographer hired him, and posed him here to make a cruel visual joke.
from Acton, A History of Photography at the University of Notre Dame: Twentieth Century (Notre Dame, 2019)