Photographer of light and tenderness
Sabine Weiss has been walking around with her camera, photogrpahing others with tenderness and an incurable curiosity, for the last 45 years. Member of the Rapho agency since 1953, she is known for her ‘humanist’ style that documented the 50s & 60s and has shot numerous fashion pieces for Vogue as well as portraits of celebrities and ar
Concurrently with her paid commissions, she has always taken for for ‘herself’. A time went on, she concentrated on solely black and white shots which allowed her to express what she saw on her travels with « more calm and simplicity », documenting man and his surroundings, and a fullness of light that obsesses her.
“Photography gave me happiness"
Photography has always been her way of life and reflection of her attitude.
A living legend of photography, the 85-year-old Swiss-born artist Sabine Weiss has shared the wealth of her experience with her fans in Moscow during a creative workshop.
An exhibition of her works entitled “Half a Century of Photography” has also opened in the Russian capital as part of the ongoing “Photobiennale”.
Weiss took her first photograph when she was 12 years old. Since then her camera has enabled her to keep an authentic visual record of life and the people around her.
“I didn’t like studying at school – perhaps I was lazy – and was interested only in photography. When I was 17 years old I made up my mind to become a photographer,” she says.
Weiss studied photography in Geneva and, after moving to Paris back in the late 1940s, worked as an assistant to a famous fashion photographer, Willy Maywald, for three years. She was later engaged by one of the oldest photo agencies in the world, the Rapho, where Weiss worked from 1952 until just recently, 2010.
“Things were so different back then,” she says. First and foremost, in terms of the equipment. Weiss recollects she was once sent on assignment to Spain as a photojournalist but was stopped by customs officers asking her why she was carrying so much lighting with her. The photographer explained she had to change lighting each time she used a flash, so she always had to carry tons of extra lights with her.
Nowadays it sounds ridiculous. Professional photographers have an opportunity to use all sorts of state-of-the-art technology and devices, and Weiss says she is happy she does not have to carry plenty of heavy bags anymore. She also appears to be a fan of digital photography. However, Weiss adds, she does not like changing cameras and prefers to stick to her favorite Nikon.
Weiss’ approach to photography has been referred to as “humanist”. Her trademark, thought-provoking images feature a perpetual dialogue between Weiss and the subject of her attention. She says photography gave her happiness.
“It’s a chance to talk to anybody, to travel and meet different people. Photography opens so many doors!”
It seems that she has photographed people of almost all ages, religions and nationalities, and says she especially loves taking pictures of children. “It’s a fusion of beauty and spontaneity, but babies are actually quite hard to capture.”
People happy, tired, lost, lonely, rich, poor, in love, in pain; artists, writers, musicians, ordinary people… Weiss says each photo is different and deserves special attention and approach. “Sometimes the most important thing is the composition of the picture, sometimes the face, sometimes the background.”
Gestures, facial expressions, body language, and oftentimes even hidden thoughts – it seems that nothing can escape from the panoptic eye of the omniscient photographer.
Her camera is akin to a fairy’s magic wand which enabled Weiss to suspend time and freeze any particular moment she wants to capture.
“I want my pictures to be simple, easy to read and understand,” says the photographer, whose images indeed speak for themselves.
Her style is a synergy of spontaneity, sensibility and informality, backed up by the photographer’s intuition. But, Weiss says, finding her signature style was never a problem. “In fact I've never searched for it!”
Valeria Paikova, RT
Attirée très jeune par la photographie, elle commence à photographier à l’age de 12 ans avec un appareil photo acheté avec son argent de poche. Son père la soutient dans son choix, et elle apprend plus tard la technique photographique, de 1942 à 1945, auprès d’un photographe de studio à Genève : Frédéric Boissonnas.
Elle obtient son diplôme de photographe et ouvre son atelier personnel avant de partir s’installer définitivement à Paris en 1946. Elle devient alors, à 22 ans, l’assistante du célèbre photographe de mode Willy Maywald : « Quand je suis venue à Paris, j'ai pu travailler chez Maywald à qui un ami m'avait recommandée. J'y ai travaillé dans des conditions inimaginables aujourd'hui, mais avec lui j'ai compris l'importance de la lumière naturelle. La lumière naturelle comme source d'émotion ».
Elle travaille alors dans des secteurs variés : passionnée de musique, elle fixe les visages de grands noms de la musique (Igor Stravinski, Benjamin Britten, Pablo Casals, Stan Getz…) mais aussi ceux de la littérature, de l’art, etc. (Fernand Léger, Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Pougny, Alberto Giacometti, Robert Rauschenberg, Jan Voss, Jean Dubuffet…) ; elle collabore également à plusieurs revues et journaux connus en Amérique et en Europe pour des commandes publicitaires et de presse (Vogue, Match, Life, Time, Town and Country, Holiday, Newsweek, etc.). Enfin elle parcourt le monde en tant que photojournaliste, et en rapporte de nombreux clichés.
À partir de 1950, elle est représentée par l’agence Rapho, première agence de presse française gérant entre autres le travail de Robert Doisneau (qui lui propose de rentrer dans l’agence après une rencontre dans le bureau du directeur de Vogue), Willy Ronis, Édouard Boubat… Elle se marie la même année avec le peintre américain Hugh Weiss, rencontré lors d’un voyage en Italie quelques temps auparavant, et se lie d’amitié avec des personnalités du milieu artistique comme Jean Cocteau, Maurice Utrillo, Georges Rouault, et Jacques Henri Lartigue. Avec ce dernier elle partage l’amour de l’humanité et le goût pour les visions intimes de la vie.
Malgré ses succès et la publication d’une quinzaine d’ouvrages dont 100 photos de Sabine Weiss pour la liberté de la presse par RSF en 2007, Sabine Weiss reste une personnalité discrète et peu connue du grand public.
Sabine Weiss est officier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres depuis 1999 (Chevalier en 1987).