Sabine Weiss: "It only takes one shot for it to be the right one"

Sabine Weiss: “It only takes one shot for it to be the right one”

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Born in 1924, Sabine Weiss has a long journey to this day. Originally from Saint-Gingolph, a village crossed by the Franco-Swiss border, she was attracted very early by photography, which she learned alongside Paul Boissenas in a studio in Geneva.

“What made me want is the material. The objects were very important to me. My mother took me to many exhibitions, to give me an artistic education. To be a photographer, you had to go in a studio. What I did on my way to Geneva. I learned everything about the profession. Photography is a profession, I am an artisan.” -Sabine Weiss

Sabine Weiss: Porte de Vanves, Paris, 1951
Sabine Weiss: Porte de Vanves, Paris, 1951

– Sabine Weiss

She went to Paris in 1946, and then became Willy Maywald’s assistant, before meeting the one who would become her husband, the American painter Hugh Weiss. Alongside Maywald, she discovers the notion of “natural light”, she meets great Parisian figures. After this training, she decided to open her own studio, and worked in advertising, for the world of art and fashion, collaborating for prestigious titles such as vogue Where Time Magazineand for making portraits of eminent personalities such as Igor Stravinsky, Fernand Léger, Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Françoise Sagan or even Coco Chanel.

“To make a portrait, you have to go quickly, it’s very fleeting. There are personalities that you can direct, like Joan Miró, who had a lot of fantasies. On the other hand, I would never have asked Giacometti to do anything. A photographer’s life is full of anecdotes.”Sabine Weiss


A humanist photographer

On the sidelines of this work, often as an order, Sabine Weiss does more personal work, and immortalizes the liberated Paris of the post-war period. It was from the 1950s that she was represented by the Rapho Agency, thanks to her friend, the artist Miro, where she rubbed shoulders with Robert Doisneau, Jean Cocteau and Willy Ronis. She travels the world, from Ethiopia to Egypt, via Reunion Island or Burkina Faso.

Coming from the so-called humanist current (and one of the rare women to practice this profession for a long time), Sabine Weiss is exhibited all over the world, in the greatest institutions. She recently chose to entrust her archives to the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, which represent 200,000 negatives, 7,000 contact sheets, 2,700 vintage prints and more, enough to make you dizzy.

“We didn’t know it was freedom, but it was. I captured all that spirit with not much.”Sabine Weiss

Paris, December 31, 1954, Sabine Weiss
Paris, December 31, 1954, Sabine Weiss

– Sabine Weiss

For further

Official site by Sabine Weiss

Documentary file, on Sabine Weiss, to see and read on the Jeu de Paume website.

The 1001 lives of Sabine Weiss, a film by Jean-Baptiste Roumens, to see on Viméo.

Interview with Sabine Weiss, in which she opens her personal archives, for the Jeu de Paume, Château de Tours, in 2016, to see on Youtube.

I only like photographs taken in the street : interview with Sabine Weiss for the photography blog, Room with views (June 2017).

A photographer’s life, Sabine Weiss : an exhibition to see at Kiosk of Vannes until September 6, 2020.

Sabine Weiss in the Archives of Women Artists Research & Exhibitions.

Sabine Weiss: cities, the street, the other : exhibition at the Center Pompidou photography gallery (2018).

Sabine Weiss: a look at time : documentary by Jean-Pierre and Fabien Franey, 2005. Online on YouTube.

This Masterclass was recorded on October 26, 2019, in public at the MEP in Paris, on the occasion of Paris Photography.

First aired August 1, 2020

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