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Photographer Sabine Weiss dies aged 97

She was the last of the French humanist photographers. For nearly eight decades, she photographed social change with a unique eye

By: Deutsche Welle | Paris |
December 30, 2021 5:00:03 pm
Sabine Weiss, Sabine Weiss age, Sabine Weiss death, Sabine Weiss street photographyWeiss was one of the people to define the 'Photographie Humaniste,' or humanist photography, genre. (Joel Saget/AFP/dpa/picture alliance)

Swiss-French photographer Sabine Weiss has died at the age of 97, her family announced on Wednesday.

She was regarded as the last of the French humanist photography school of post-World War II. Her work covered eight decades, pioneering what was to become known as street photography.

Weiss photographed the condition of ordinary people in Paris, often at night, saying she wanted to immortalize “the snotty-nosed kids,” “the beggars” and “the little piss-takers” in her photos.

“A good picture must move you, have a good composition and be sober,” she told the French daily La Croix. “People’s sensitiveness must jump out at you.”

She captured scenes such as a stolen kiss, crowds rushing to the metro or construction sites. Her contemporaries included Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis and Brassai.

But she was also in high demand as a portrait photographer, particularly of other artists, including composers Benjamin Britten and Igor Stravinsky, renowned cellist Pablo Casals and French painter Fernand Leger.

“From the start I had to make a living from photography — it wasn’t something artistic,” Weiss told AFP news agency in a 2014 interview. “It was a craft,” she said. “I was a craftswoman of photography.”

Her work is held in permanent collections of several leading museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Weiss coined the “photographie humaniste” with her everyday images, and traveled the world for magazines such as Vogue, Life, Time and Newsweek.

Born in Switzerland, she took French citizenship and worked in her studio in Paris from 1949.

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