Quinn, Edward (1920–97), photographer, was born 20 February 1920 in Dublin, younger of two sons of Edward Quinn, Guinness brewery worker, and Norah Quinn (née MacShane). The family lived in Dollymount, Dublin, where Edward was educated locally. On leaving school he fell into various professions before finding, by chance, his métier. After getting a certificate in metal plate work, which he did not much use, he became a professional musician. His instruments were the guitar and his voice, but he learned the contrabass on demand. This work took him to Belfast during the second world war. While he was sheltering in a church during an air raid, a piece of the roof fell in and the gravity of this so impressed him that he left to join the RAF and became a navigator. After the war he worked for Chartair (based in Tangiers). On a flight to Marseille in 1948 he met his future wife, the Zurich-born Gret Sulser. From a solid bourgeois family, she marvelled at his creativity and impetuosity, saying: ‘I am like a Swiss watch, but with Ted – nothing was normal!’ (interview, 2005). They married (17 April 1952) and had a long and loving marriage; she was his assistant and archivist. There were no children.
During the Berlin airlift (June 1948–September 1949), Quinn worked for the Lancashire Aircraft Corporation, flying several times daily from Wunstorf to Berlin. Gret was then working in Monaco, and in 1949 he decided to move closer to her. After returning to his old profession of musician for a few months – billed as ‘Eddie Quinero, le célèbre guitariste electrique!’ – he decided to try his hand at photography. The first photo he published was in the Irish Independent in 1950 – ironically, since subsequently he seldom had work printed in Irish papers and was not well known in his native land. This first shot was of an Irish horse which had just won a race in Nice. His apprentice years as photographer coincided with the rise of the Côte d'Azur as a jet-set destination for film stars, millionaires, and royalty, thanks largely to the fame of Brigitte Bardot and Princess Grace. Quinn worked for Paris Match and a number of agencies, principally Black Star in London and American International News Service. For these he provided snaps of celebrities such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Haile Selassie, and Aristotle Onassis. He was on good terms with many of his subjects thanks to his attractive personality – besides being tall, slim, and handsome he was ‘charming, flirtatiously shy, friendly, rarely over-bearing’ (Heller, A Cote d'Azur album, 191). His portraits from these years – collected into two books, Edward Quinn: a Côte d'Azur album (1994) and Stars, stars, stars . . . off the screen! (1994) – caught the flavour of the glamorous postwar guilt-free world, and remain fresh, elegant, and informal: Edith Piaf being helped on with a shoe; Roberto Rosselini having his car serviced.
Quinn was artistic – as well as music, he studied sculpture and painting – and his ambitions went beyond the paparazzo. In 1951 he met Picasso at a ceramics exhibition. His talent, discretion, and friendliness won favour and eventually he was granted his wish to photograph the artist at work. After the first studio session, where Quinn took particular care to keep out of the way, he heard Picasso tell a friend: ‘Lui, il ne me dérange pas’. They became friends and Quinn photographed Picasso for the rest of the artist's life; this resulted in four books and three films. The first book, Picasso at work (1965), was translated into six languages and widely praised for its insight into the creative process, for the self-effacement of the photographer – ‘he never loses sight of the fact that his job is to tell us about Picasso and not about himself’ (Tatler, 5 May 1965) – and for the photographs ‘of superb character, etched in severe black and white or overflowing with marvellous colour’ (Cosmopolitan, February 1965). The accolade that pleased him most came from Picasso: ‘Toi, tu sais faire un portrait.’ The longest film (140 minutes) was Picasso: the man and his work (1974), a chronological examination of the artist's personal and creative development, using home movies and still photographs. It was praised by Picasso's widow for its honesty and objectivity and was subsequently released on DVD.
The success of his work on Picasso led Quinn to collaborate with three more artists, which resulted in four more books: Max Ernst (1976); Graham Sutherland: complete graphic work, 1922–1978 (1978); Georg Baselitz (1988), and Georg Baselitz: eine fotografische Studie (1993). He had great affinity with artists and also photographed Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, and Francis Bacon (qv).
Though he never lived in Ireland after the early 1940s (he developed a French turn to his speech, even when speaking English), he remained attached to his home country, visiting when he could. He felt that it was his status as exile that drew him to James Joyce (qv). Finding that the Dublin places that featured in Joyce's writings were ones that he knew well, he made a trip with his camera in the early 1970s to record the city and people. The result was James Joyce's Dublin (1974), in which photos – of bars, the races, the Liffey, street children, etc. – were matched with selected quotations from Joyce's works; it was Quinn's personal favourite among his books because he felt that in combining words and pictures, he had created a third sensation. It gained the praise of Samuel Beckett (qv) for ‘capturing the atmosphere, humour and essence of Joyce's Dublin’. Eight years later he made a sixty-minute film, The Dublin of James Joyce and Ulysses (1982); the commentary was in French though he also released an English version.
In 1992 Quinn moved from France to Altendorf, Switzerland, because he was in poor health and wished his wife to be close to her family. He died there 30 January 1997. Posthumous expositions were held in America, Britain, France and Switzerland. His work is archived on www.edwardquinn.com.