#Art + Culture

Who Was Sabine Weiss? Street Photography Pioneer Passes Away At 97

Sabine Weiss
Sabine Weiss, a Swiss-French photographer passed away at the age of 97, her family announced on Wednesday.

Her camera covered eight decades of ordinary lives on the streets and her contributions later came to be known as street photography. In an interview with French daily La Croix, Weiss had said, “A good picture must move you, have a good composition and be sober. She believed that people’s sensitiveness “must jump out at you”. She was the legend and contemporary of Willy Ronis, Brassai and Robert Doisneau.

She took many important portraits of popular artists such as famous cellist Pablo Casals, French painter Fernand Leger, composer Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky among many others. Weiss in her interviews had shared photography was not something artistic for her as she had to make a living from it. She said, ” It was a craft” and believed herself to be a craftswoman.


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Several leading museums of the work have her collections of permanent display such Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou in Paris and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She coined the term “photographie humaniste” which means humanist photography. Her work was featured by several magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Vogue and Life.

She was born in Switzerland to a chemical engineer who made artificial pearls from fish scales. She had shared she did not like to go to school and was always interested in photography. ” I left on a Summer day on a bicycle, ” she said. She started working in studio in Paris from 1949 and had also taken French citizenship. From 1942 to 1946, she learned photography from photographer Frederic Boissonas in Geneva and got Swiss qualification in photography in 1945. It was also the year when she published her first photo report. 

Sabine Weiss met her husband Hugh Weiss, an American painter, in 1949 in Italy and the couple got married the next year. Together, they adopted a daughter named Marion. About that phase of her life, Weiss has said, “”It was a beautiful period. We were between the end of the German occupation and the beginning of Americanization. People came out of a terrible ordeal and thought they could rebuild everything”. 

Feature Image Credit: Les Rencontres D’Arles

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