Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Photographs and Story of Vivian Maier

Self-portrait taken by Vivian Maier,
from the Jeff Goldstein collection,
used by permission



I'm fascinated by the unfolding story of Vivian Maier and the discovery of her photographic work. There are many stories here – some of them yet to be discovered and revealed – as though they’d been packed away along with her negatives, photographs, and exposed but undeveloped film in the boxes stowed in a storage locker. I love a good story, and I’m not sure which of the stories surrounding Maier I’m drawn to most. There’s the story of her possessions being sold at auction after nonpayment of storage fees; the story of a woman who earned her living as a nanny while devoting days off to her creative work in street photography; the story of the young man who bought several boxes of her negatives thinking they might contain images of buildings which could be useful in his research for a book about Chicago architecture, only to have his own life changed by Maier’s photography; and the visual stories Maier tells in the photographs themselves.


From the John Maloof Collection, courtesy of www.vivianmaier.com,
used by permission


Little did John Maloof know that the contents of the boxes he bought at an auction in 2007 would eventually take over his l
ife. It wasn’t until 2009, when he began to truly examine the negatives and photographs, that he realized the importance of Maier’s work. Intrigued by the images, he decided to see what he could find out about Vivian Maier, only to have a Google search turn up her recent obituary in a Chicago newspaper. He learned that she was born in New York in 1926, but grew up in France, and returned to the United States as a young adult. While her photographs show that she traveled widely, most of her images are from Chicago. To watch an interview with Maloof, click on this link to the CBS News Video “Discovering the Photography of Vivian Maier” which also includes input from esteemed photographer Joel Meyerowitz.

From the John Maloof Collection, courtesy of www.vivianmaier.com,
used by permission


A nanny by profession, Vivian Maier spent her days off working at her photography. This is what cuts to my heart. She diligently and quietly worked at her art. She devoted her life to it. It appears she did it for herself, for the creative satisfaction it gave her, and she didn’t share it with others. In fact, she was pretty much a loner and didn’t seem to have any friends or family beyond the families who employed her. She is as mysterious as her self-portrait above, where she is standing in half-shadow with her Rolliflex camera.

From the John Maloof Collection, courtesy of www.vivianmaier.com,
used by permission


There are many fans of Maier’s photography now that word is getting out, and those ranks are growing daily. The two biggest champions of her work are John Maloof and Jeff Goldstein, who each own portions of the Maier collection. Both have invested substantial time and money into the Maier project, working independently but toward the same purpose and goal with camaraderie. Both have websites devoted to Maier’s work and I highly recommend that you take the time to look at the images and read the story of Maier’s work at John Maloof’s site “Vivian Maier – Her Discovered Work” and Jeff Goldstein’s site “Vivian Maier Photography.”

From the John Maloof Collection, courtesy of www.vivianmaier.com,
used by permission


An exhibition of Maier’s photographs, “Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer” is currently at the Chicago Cultural Center (January 7 – April 3, 2011). An upcoming exhibit, “Vivian Maier, Photographer” will be at the Russell Bowman Art Advisory (April 15 – June 18, 2011).

From the John Maloof Collection, courtesy of www.vivianmaier.com,
used by permission


A book and documentary film are in the works. See video below for more information.


A big thank you goes out to John Maloof and Jeff Goldstein for granting me permission to use these images from their collections.



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2 comments:

Edd Fuller said...

Dory, nice write-up on a very unusual and interesting story. I think you touch on something important when you write: "She diligently and quietly worked at her art."

There are many distractions and it is easy to spend so much time "being" a photographer or "being" a writer, that there is little time left for actually taking pictures or writing. Vivian Maier just made photographs. There is a lesson there, I think.

Dory Adams said...

Edd, I agree about all the distractions we face. It's a constant challenge to stay focused, and even to make time for the work since most of us earn our living at jobs outside our art -- just as Maier did. I'm simply amazed at how much she accomplished and the huge body of work she left behind.