Chicago Nanny Discovered To Be Master Street Photographer

- - Photographers

The story of Chicago nanny Vivian Maier is on the front pages of the blogs again because of a show at the Chicago Cultural Center, January 7 – April 3.

http://www.vivianmaier.blogspot.com/

For further reading I recommend Blake Andrews’ (AKA, B) stories The Flame of Recognition

Assessing the field of photography is as self selecting as measuring the unemployment rate. Only those actively looking for work are included in unemployment statistics, and those who’ve given up aren’t counted. The fine art photo world operates in a similar way. It’s very good at monitoring the progress of motivated self-promoters, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. Quietly obsessive folks like Vivian Maier are not included in the equation.

and Thoughts on Maier.

While the basic outline of her life life is now fairly well established, Maier still remains something of a mystery. For me the most intriguing questions center on her photographic skill. How did she gain such a sharp eye? What training did she have? Which photographers or photographs did she come in contact with? Who if anyone helped her develop? Or was she a pure autodidact?

There’s also a kickstarter for a feature length doc:

thx, selina.

There Are 40 Comments On This Article.

  1. This is simply an incredibly fascinating story. It’s more than a bit sad, that Vivian never got to see her solo show, but I suppose she never really wanted to promote herself.

    Thanks for posting this Rob, it really is very cool.

    -Timothy

  2. What an incredible story! (This is actually the first I’ve heard of it…so thanks, Rob, for making me aware of it.) Even more incredible, though, are Vivian Maier’s PHOTOGRAPHS!! That there is any debate as to their quality, or to Ms. Maier’s place among the canon of street photographers is nutty; the images speak for themselves, and both she and they are amazing.

  3. Great post !
    Tremendous work by Vivian !!!
    And same old (and sad) story … as an artist you must be dead to make a living ….

    I agree, there are many many photographers out there who are not very skilled on self-promoting …
    That said: Tom Leopold is my personal favorite street photographer … still living by the way http://www.tomleopold.com/

    Best, Reini

  4. must be something the water here in chicago it reminds me of Gary Stochl story. At least he is able to enjoy his success now.

  5. That is awesome!! How exciting that we get to watch her work being discovered in real time.
    Screw the fine art snobs and their judgements. This is a great example of an artist being an artist for simple sake of art. Wish we all could be so humble.

    • @von Pamer, I also thought of Henry Darger! Chicago = the city of ‘closet artists’? (Even more uncanny: the young heroines of Darger’s obsesssive drawings were named…the Vivian girls!?) Let’s just hope the fine art photography world doesn’t try to classify Vivian Maier as “outsider art”; her photographs are far too poignant and/or connected to a reality we can all recognize for that.

  6. Absolutely unbelievable story – sent shivers down my spine. “Art for arts sake” is an understatement. What’s most amazing is that the person who found her work was not a photographer, but was inspired to become one, and quickly realized the quality of Vivian’s work.

    The power of the internet…

  7. Another great example of the archivability and sustainability of film. Not sure if that would be the case if these were a box of floppy disks, zip drives or cd’s.

  8. It’s a great question to ask ourselves: Would we be content creating work of this incredible quality if not a single soul knew about it? (And did she have faith in her own ability and just didn’t seek the spotlight, or did she sadly feel her work wasn’t worthy of the spotlight?)

    • @Bob Durling, I wonder also if as with Gary stochl’s work if it’s the idea of looking back at another time, if she was working today, would we be as interested?

      • @doug,

        Well, the photos are amazing, so I would be interested.

        Bob, I think that you are over thinking it. She was a nanny, when she wasn’t working she took pictures, for herself. There was no spotlight for photography then, that is a much more recent development.

        • @Victor John Penner,
          I disagree. What about Ansel Adams and Dorthea Lange? No, what you have here is a talented artist who happened to be a nanny, and we find her photos interesting because not only are they well composed, but they show us what day to day life was back then.

  9. What a great story, and I have to say since I have taken up street photography in the last year that I think there are few with the quiet passion and eye that capture the essence of life.

    I think that she is the Dorthea Lange of the east coast. Love the images shown in the video, and they make me some what envious of the era.

  10. David Bean

    I find it. Fascinating how much undeveloped film there is of hers. Either she couldn’t afford to. Have it all processed, or for her the simple act of shooting was as rewarding as the final results.

    Maybe a bit of both, but I love artists that do it for the joy that is taking pictures and not just to see the results.

    • @David Bean,
      Or perhaps, she did not feel she had anything of value in those rolls… though I suspect cost of processing did have something to do with it.

  11. Very interesting and intriguing story. It’s just fascinating how much is unknown about this great photographer, just like a mystery movie.

  12. nice! i just visited her exhibition in Oslo during November. Amazing work and great story, will be excited to see this project complete

  13. a truly sad, but fascinating, photographic journey. I would love to have the opportunity to see her completed work. Great work guys, good luck with the documentary.

  14. Julie gaerig

    I saw this today in chicago magazine on my flight from LA to Chicago. I found it amazing and would love to go to the opening. We leave on Saturday morning so if anyone knows about the opening , can you email me.

  15. It’s great that her photos, which look wonderful, have come to light. I’m curious about who owns the copyrights to them. By purchasing the negatives (and undeveloped films), did John Maloof acquire them?

    • @David Doern,

      I think that is a good question, I would think he would own the © of anything he bought, since they were unregistered and since it seems she has no heirs. If heirs do come forward they may be able to challenge ownership…?

  16. Thank you for highlighting this incredible story and amazing portfolio of work. I am awe struck with Vivian Maier’s images and am so thankful these ended up in someone’s responsible hands. Seeing her self-portraits brought back memories of my childhood start with photography using an old Ricohflex TLR and 120 film.

  17. Exciting news! As a professional photographer I already love her style. Her photographs have a very photojournalistic feel to them. She captured some really great moments. Can’t wait to see them all.

  18. Christopher Rodmell

    Hi
    I am a UK based documentary film maker/ film editor with a lifetime love of photography if you need any help UK end , contact me . I found the story Fascinating , did she ever print anything ? or was it the act of taking the picture , it’s not clear in the news item .

    have a look at a french film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1048171/

    Good luck

    Chris