10/20/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT
At first it was just a job. When an Irish airman named Edward Quinn landed on the French Riviera after World War II in pursuit of a girl he 'd met on a plane, he had to make a living. The amateur shutterbug invested in a Rolleiflex camera and an old enlarger, figuring newspapers might buy photos of movie stars flocking to the new Cannes Film Festival. He was right: By the 1950s fans had become enthralled by images of celebrities frolicking in what seemed impossible opulence for a country so recently torn by war. Then as now, competition among paparazzi was intense, but Quinn natural charm and unobtrusive style won him special access. Blessed with an eye that could see the person behind the personality, Quinn himself was unimpressed by stars and never socialized with them. He died at 76 last January of kidney failure, just before a book of his work, Stars Stars Stars Off the Screen, was going to press. And that girl? She is now his widow, Gret, 75. "He always saw things that I didn't even notice, "she recalls. "He really knew how to capture beauty."