Sabine Weiss

Sabine Weiss is one of the great names in European photography. Born Sabine Weber in 1924 in Saint-Gingolph, the Swiss-born photographer did her apprenticeship with Paul Boissonnas in Geneva, before moving to Paris in 1946 where she was the assistant of Willy Maywald for four years. She settled in the French capital with her husband, the American painter Hugh Weiss, where she worked for many years with the Rapho Agency.

Sabine Weiss is one of the last representatives of the “humanist” school of photography that emerged in France just after the Second World War and that included eminent photographers such as Édouard Boubat, Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis and Brassaï. While like the others, she mainly took black and white photos of everyday life and street scenes, concentrating on ordinary people and children - often in snapshot mode -, she also explored a variety of other options, notably color fashion photography, advertising, photographic essays for the American press and portraits of well-known people. Sabine Weiss became known in the United States and in Europe in the 1950s through the publication of her work in popular magazines as well as through her participation in major exhibitions (Post-War European Photography at the MoMA in 1953, a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1954, The Family of Man in 1955, etc.). Although she was both enterprising and curious, she had little interest in taking center stage and participating in theoretical debates.

She became widely recognized by the establishment at the end of the 1970s after a decade or so in the shadow as a result of the events of May 1968 and the criticism of humanist photography, considered to be reactionary and outdated at the time. Her portraits, street scenes and travel photographs are now exhibited worldwide, and the most iconic ones can be found in major collections in France (MEP, Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Musée Niépce), in the United States (MET, MoMA, SFMoMA, Art Institute of Chicago), in Japan (National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto) and in Mexico (Fine Arts Museum of Santa Fe).

André Breton dans son atelier, Paris, 1955 © Sabine Weiss

Ana Karina pour Korrigan en 1958 © Sabine Weiss

Chez Dior, 1958 © Sabine Weiss

New York, 1955 © Sabine Weiss

Sabine Weiss’ archives in figures

In order to accommodate this archive with its immense heritage value, work has already begun on the selection, inventory, documentation, digitization and preservation of the collection, together with Sabine Weiss herself, providing an ideal context.

The treatment of a photographic archive is a long-term task that makes it possible, after several years, to attain an in-depth understanding of a work, to take the measures necessary to preserve it for posterity and to develop relevant and varied enhancement projects. The Musée de l’Elysée is drawing upon its experience and its expertise in terms of the management of photographic collections and has already begun to treat the Sabine Weiss archives in the photographer’s own studio, meticulously preparing and documenting it so that it will arrive under the best conditions possible at PLATEFORME 10.

The Sabine Weiss photographic archive includes:

  • All of the negatives: approximately 200,000
  • All of the contact sheets: 7,000
  • The majority of the vintage photographs: 2,700
  • The majority of late prints (modern): 2,000
  • Working prints: 3,500
  • Approximately 2,000 slides
  • Fifteen complete exhibitions
  • Documentation: personal photographs, press archives, reviews, receipts, correspondence, films, recordings, etc.

The collections of the Musée de l’Elysée

The Musée de l’Elysée had already taken an interest in Sabine Weiss’ work in 1987 via an exhibition and the acquisition of 60 black and white prints. In 2015, the museum paid tribute to her during the Nuit des images.

Inde, 1986 © Sabine Weiss / Collections Musée de l'Elysée

Petite fille, petit arbre, 1981 © Sabine Weiss / Collections Musée de l'Elysée

Paris, 1953 © Sabine Weiss / Collections Musée de l'Elysée