For over sixty years, Sabine Weiss’s name has been synonymous with the seminal era of French Humanist photography. A living legend, Weiss’s images from 1950s Paris speak of a postwar time when a feeling of hope and joie de vivre could be felt in the people populating the city’s cafes, squares, streets, and in all corners throughout Paris. Weiss would photograph individuals going about their daily lives capturing their emotions and creating a style that combined spontaneity and informality, backed by photographer’s intuition and knack for seeing and celebrating the simple joys of life. As she said, “I take photographs to hold on to the ephemeral, capture chance, keep an image of something that will disappear: gestures, attitudes, objects that are reminders of our brief lives. The camera picks them up and freezes them at the very moment that they disappear. I love this constant dialogue between myself, my camera and my subject, which is what differentiates me from certain other photographers, who don’t seek this dialogue and prefer to distance themselves from their subject.”
Originally from Switzerland, Weiss moved to Paris in 1946 where she first assisted fashion photographer Willy Maywald learning much about composition and the technical aspects of photography. Her meeting with Robert Doisneau in 1952 in the offices of Vogue was decisive, as it led her to join the influential Rapho agency that would exhibit her work and she signed a nine-year contract as a Vogue photographer. During that period she would develop her permanent focus on humanity, making her one of the few reportage photographers whose work combined everyday poetry with sharp social observation. Weiss traveled the world and published a large number of reports in a range of magazines, such as Time, Life, Newsweek, Town and Country, and Paris Match. In 1955, Edward Steichen chose three of her photographs for the The Family of Man exhibition.
Weiss passed away in December 2021 at age 97 and was considered the last member of the humanist school of photography, whose ranks included Robert Doisneau, Brassaï and Willy Ronis.