Swiss-French photographer Sabine Weiss has died

Weiss with the French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand after she was awarded the Order of Merit in Paris in 2010. Keystone / Christophe Ena

A pioneer of post-war photography and one of the last members of the French Humanist school died on Tuesday at the age of 97.

This content was published on December 29, 2021 minutes

Her family and staff announced the news in a statement on Wednesday. Weiss had lived in Paris since 1946.

Born in 1924 in Saint-Gingolph, a village on the border between Switzerland and France, she grew up in the Geneva countryside. Her father was a chemical engineer. After leaving the family home at 16 to work as an au pair, she started an apprenticeship at a well-known photographer's studio in Geneva.

After what she called “love problems” she left Geneva for France. Post-war Paris of the 1950s was when her career took off. She walked around the capital, often at night, with her husband, the American painter Hugh Weiss, to capture fleeting moments: workers in action, furtive kisses, comings and goings in the metro stations. 

The famous photographer Robert Doisneau was captivated by her work. Thanks to his support, she landed a contract with Vogue magazine, and then joined the agency Rapho. Like her contemporaries Doisneau, Boubat, Willy Ronis or Izis, Sabine Weiss immortalised the simple life of people. She became a representative of the French Humanist photography school, a label she finally accepted, even if she found it simplistic. She became a naturalised French citizen in 1995.

Weiss has featured in around 160 exhibitions around the world. Her most recent accolade was winning the Kering's Women in Motion photography award for 2020.  

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