The photography community over the past few weeks have been abuzz about a newly discovered stash of breathtaking street photographs from the ‘50s. If you haven’t heard of her already, its my pleasure to introduce you to Vivian Maier.
Ask anyone and they will tell you that street photography is no walk in the park. Capturing candid scenes while not scaring off (or worse) your subject are but one of the factors that you have to take into account with each shot you take. And then we have Vivian Maier, who until of recent, was an enigma. She has captivated the world with her unique brand of photography which was full of unfathomable depth. And no, she wasn’t a professional photojournalist or a member of Magnum. She was a nanny.
Not much is known about Vivian Maier. But the story starts off with John Maloof, a real estate agent, chanced uponed Vivians’s treasure trove while at a furniture and antique auction. Little did he know what was in store for him inside a tiny little box and what this chance encounter would lead him to.
As Maloof pored over the Vivian’s 100,000 negatives, he realized just how talented and gifted she was. He picked up photography and was completely floored when he started comparing his shots to hers. “Throughout that time, I’d compare my work to Vivian’s and think, ‘Wow, this isn’t good for me.’ She was teaching me photography. I bought some books by street photographers such as Harry Callahan, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lee Friedlander. I thought, she’s special – doesn’t anybody know?” At that time, googling her name only led to 1 hit – an obituary.
The burning desire to know Vivian’s past paved to way for her work and subsequently, her story, to reach the world. John, through the help of the internet and keen sleuthing on his part, was able to piece together a small glimpse of her life, which is detailed here.
Some of the info are conflicting. Some are solid leads. There are dozens of questions that are begging to be asked but sadly, we will never have the chance to ask them. So let’s just appreciate and remain spellbound by her photos and consider ourselves lucky that we’ve discovered mid-century America through her eyes.
Visit the ongoing exhibit of Vivian’s work:
Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer
Jan 8, 2011 – Apr 3, 2011
Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St, Michigan Avenue Galleries
Chicago, IL 60602