Sabine Weiss: Reflections @ the Photographers’ Gallery

Photographers’ Gallery Print Sales

Ever since the Photographers Gallery (TPG) was set up in 1971 it’s offered an outlet for photographers to sell high quality prints of their work. Over the years the Print Sales operation has acquired a roster of some thirty-five photographers, famous and emerging, British and international, living and dead.

These days if you visit the Gallery at its Soho location, spitting distance from Oxford Circus tube station, most of the exhibitions require buying a ticket – but if you go downstairs to the shop, you’ll find Print Sales right next to it, in a nice, white, well-lit basement room, and it’s FREE.

Here, every year, TPG stage five displays of high quality prints of the works of its represented photographers, all of which are available to buy. All profits from the sale of photographic works at Print Sales go back to support the public programme of The Photographers’ Gallery. It’s essentially a salesroom, but anyone is at liberty to wander in and enjoy the display for free.

Down here they are currently displaying about 15 very beautiful, romantic, uplifting black and white photos by the renowned Swiss-French photographer, Sabine Weiss. They are lovely to look at. And they are extremely expensive.

Sabine Weiss: Reflections

Sabine Weiss was born in 1924 and died just a few years ago in 2021. She was a key figure in France’s post-war photographic landscape. She is associated with the post-war Humanist school of photography, in which she and others sought to document the new realities of modern life, accurately but enhanced with romantic and visual poetry. Her shots are inspired and inspiring. Her chosen territory was the street and her chosen subject street life, by day or night. Several points arise:

1. Black and white

They’re all black and white, the medium of arty or just stylish photos. They have tremendous style but it is an open, warm, humane, people-centred style. And they are that rarity in modern art or photography; they are happy. I defy you not to smile along with these street scamps.

Madrid, Espagne, 1950 by Sabine Weiss © Sabine Weiss Estate, courtesy the Photographers’ Gallery

2. No tricks

No obvious fancy tricks, no solarising or modernist angles, her approach is more immediate and accessible – romantic poster art. Inventive, yes. Imaginative and always striking, very striking; but always immediately readable and enjoyable.

Paris, 1952 by Sabine Weiss © Sabine Weiss Estate, courtesy the Photographers’ Gallery

3. Paris romance

Above all here photos are all set in Paris, city of love and romance. Some of her photos make this explicit, are of young lovers kissing, but an air of romance hovers over all of them. They amount to love letters to what the travel industry and other promoters like to call the City of Light.

Amoureux place de la Republic, December 31st, 1954 by Sabine Weiss © Sabine Weiss Estate, courtesy the Photographers’ Gallery

Obviously this is a shot of two couples snogging, up there with the sailor and girl kissing in Times Square on V-J Day by Alfred Eisenstaedt or, closer to home, Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville by Weiss’s friend, Robert Doisneau. (I presume there’s a coffee table book somewhere devoted entirely to photos of kisses.)

But after a minute or so you realise that, unlike those other two shots, Weiss’s kiss takes place at night and then it begins to dawn on your that what the picture is really about is the lights in the background. After you’ve processed the human subjects, you move on to notice the very soft focus or out-of-focus lights blasting out from cafes and restaurants in the background.

This is just as important as the actual lovers, because the glowing lights signify that this is young love in the city, the big city, full of bars and clubs and youth and promise and energy and excitement. And the photo conveys all that and evokes memories and the feel of all that in the viewer. I feel younger and more energised just looking at it!

4. Lighting effects

There are as many daytime images as night-time ones, but the night time ones are the ones which capture your imagination. As you look from one to another you realise she is interested in soft lighting, the glow of streetlamps. It’s one of the things that gives the images, seen together, a softening, emollient feeling, but at the same time makes them intriguing, draws you in. I’ve no idea what’s happening in this short – well, obviously a guy on a street corner is holding a firework or flare, but I’ve no idea why. But the point is – it’s interesting, it’s intriguing, it draws you into the image to construct your own narrative, project your own story.

And it’s about the interaction of the blurred, over-exposed light against the silhouette of the cyclist passing by. There may be some narrative ‘in the real world’, maybe it’s some kind of political protest. but the real drama is in the complex and beautifully captured interplay of bright light and black silhouette.

Feux de Bengale, Naples, Italie, 1954 by Sabine Weiss © Sabine Weiss Estate, courtesy the Photographers’ Gallery

5. Depth of field

Another feature is perspective. There’s often a long perspective, as in a field of spectators standing on chairs to watch a horse race or a man running down a dark cobbled road. They have a sense of depth of field – another technique for drawing you in, in, into the image, and to construct your own interpretation or story.

Courses à Auteuil, Paris, France, 1952 by Sabine Weiss © Sabine Weiss Estate, courtesy the Photographers’ Gallery

6. Through a glass

This sense of depth and perspective is crystallised, as it were, in the several photos on display here which are taken through a window. One is taken from inside a café through the big plate glass window into a very foggy street where we can make out the silhouette of a policeman in the characteristic French cape.

Facteur a Lyon, 1950 by Sabine Weiss © Sabine Weiss Estate, courtesy the Photographers’ Gallery

Two other photos take the window motif a little further by looking through rainy windows, emphasising the barrier between the viewer and the image, which itself raises the barrier between the viewer and the photo itself, carefully curated and framed and sealed behind protective glass. There are two levels of barrier or at work here. The point is not exactly the image, but the artifice brought out by the image.

2 CV sous la pluie, Paris, 1957 by Sabine Weiss © Sabine Weiss Estate, courtesy the Photographers’ Gallery

Compositional skill

Weiss had a long and successful career capturing reportage, topical events and recording journeys across Europe and the US during the post-war era for the illustrated press including Paris Match, the New York Times and Life. Some of the works here reflect that, being taken in Spain or Italy. But it also includes more personal work taken in and around her neighbourhood of Porte de Saint-Cloud in Paris.

All of them are testament to Weiss’s skill in spotting the beauty of small moments, whether engaging with a group of mischievous children or capturing an anonymous silhouette through a rain-soaked window – recognising and capturing the happy moment. She’s quoted as saying:

“I take photographs to hold on to the ephemeral, capture chance, keep an image of something that will disappear, gestures, attitudes, objects that are reminders of our brief lives.”


The prices vary a little depending on size, but most of these high quality silver gelatin prints will set you back £4,000 plus VAT i.e. around £4,680. Precious moments, indeed!

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  1. jannikolaus

     /  February 17, 2023

    Sorry Simon, to correct you: The man with the cape has a letter box before him, so it is a postman, french “facteur“, perhaps reading the next address for despatch, perhaps reading a love letter, who knows…Very good motto that at the moment, because of that I just picked my old book about American photography between 1920 and 1940: Erika Billeter, ‘Amerika Fotografie 1920 to 1940’, or just recently: ‘Walther, New Deal Photography, the photos of the FSA Farm Security Administration 1935 to 1943’, Taschen 2022, in English. Cheers Jan


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