The street photography of Chicago nanny, Vivian Maier, was discovered when 29-year-old history enthusiast John Maloof stumbled across an enormous stash of negatives at an auction. When he started a blog to share her incredible photographs with the world; the response was unbelievable. Everyone - including the NY Times - started running stories on the photos. We caught up with John Maloof, the discoverer and champion of Vivian's work.
First of all, could you tell our Lomographers a little bit about how you came across the photographs?
In 2007, as the president of a local historical society here in Chicago, I was co-authoring a book on the neighborhood Portage Park. I needed historic photos for the book so I visited the local resale auction house and saw negatives with scenes of Chicago in some of the frames, so I made a gamble hoping for the best. I won the box, and looked through the images with my co-author, finding none suitable for our book, so I stashed them in the closet. It wasn’t until I was finished with the book that the images were looked at again and it took about a half year or more for me to realize that these were really good photographs and not just some old found snapshots.
What impact did the photographs have on you?
Since I wasn’t a photographer at the time I discovered them, the photographs were only interesting in a historical context, meaning, the architecture, skyline, or images that depicted the way the city looked then. It did, however inspire me to take up photography so, as I progressed as a photographer, I learned more about her work and photography as a whole. I can say the photographs impacted me by taking my life into a new direction.
What do you know about Vivian Maier and how did you go about finding out what she was like as a person?
I didn’t know anything about Maier. In fact, there was absolutely nothing concrete available online until her obituary came up in 2009. As I became more fascinated by Maier, I got sucked into the investigative work of who she was. Since I’m co-producing a documentary film on this story (in pre-production now), the research has been getting even better. We’re finding many people who knew Vivian and we have many stories to share in this film.
What has been the response to your blog and Vivian’s photos?
I was surprised at how viral the story became almost immediately. It has been snowballing ever since it was noticed online and it’s quite extraordinary to have this capability in this age to capture a large audience so easily.
Sadly she passed away shortly after you discovered her work. What would you like to say to her or ask her if she were alive today?
I’d ask her many questions, but a couple definite ones would be, “Why didn’t you show anyone your work?” and, “Are you okay with what I’m doing?”
Do you think there are more photographers like Vivian, whose work is yet to be discovered?
Absolutely. The work was purchased by several people at the same auction house before I made the efforts to reconstruct the archive. I can’t imagine how many people have purchased negatives from estate sales or the like and just tossed them in the trash thinking they’re just old family snapshots.
What do you have planned for the future?
Currently, there’s a book in production by PowerHouse (to be released in Fall of this year, 2011). A documentary film is also in production (to be released in 2012). I plan to keep promoting Maier’s work into the future. It’s still too early to make assumptions about the far-off future, but I think she’ll stand the test of time.
If you’re in the Chicago area, be sure to check out the Vivian Maier Exhibition
Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer
Dates: Jan 8, 2011 – Apr 3, 2011
Location: Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St, Michigan Avenue Galleries
Chicago, IL 60602
See more of Vivian’s work at John’s blog.
You can support the forthcoming feature-length documentary on Vivian Maier by heading here and donating to the project.
You can also find more about the discovery in our article here.
Or check out our Vivian Maier-inspired Street Photography Rumble