The Art Establishment Has Failed To Embrace Vivian Maier

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Although Maier made some 3,000 prints of her own, almost none of them have been judged by Mr. Maloof or U.S. art dealers to be worthy of exhibition or sale. Badly developed or marred in other ways, they have been kept out of sight and off the market. The website Mr. Maloof built to promote Maier doesn’t even feature any examples of these vintage prints, so we can’t judge how she interpreted the small percentage of negatives she actually had developed.

In the film Mr. Maloof protests on camera that the "art establishment" has failed to embrace the new prints he is offering for sale.

via Photography: What Does Art Look Like? – WSJ.com.

There Are 9 Comments On This Article.

  1. as I will never see the documentary, this snippet’s impression — from an extremely well-written article/critique — reads like an investor’s gripe that cornering the silver market did not work out, or other investor-related speculation woes similes.

    Mr. Maloof can hide her printed work, that is his prerogative, and for all one can surmise, they would be not professional-grade prints, but merely some tests by Ms. Maier as feedback for her work.

    I have witnessed some photos online to be Brandt-like (contrasty), and others more like the prints of Cartier-Bresson (detailed), and there is just so much left in-between left for interpretation in printing. not having a consistency in contemporaneous prints is a big deal, methinks. that prints change in tonality over time is to be expected, but a contemporaneous consistency is fundamental to present the photos.

    this becomes even more critical as her story is utilized to sell prints and create awareness. intertwining the personal history with the results is fraught with many risks, and Mr. Maloof is seeing that. the personal history, and its impact, is going to take time to sort out among those in the market.

    for now, it seems that the books are doing well, with many favorable reviews — at least from the buying public. everyone seems to know Ms. Maier.

  2. I haven’t seen the movie, just some short videos and news reports online. I gather that Vivian Maier was a very talented photographer but without a darkroom and without the resources to have fine prints made. Her “printed work” consists of very ordinary camera store prints and perhaps drug store prints. They compare poorly with prints commonly seen in galleries today or in Maier’s time. They don’t show her interpretation of the work. They don’t show her actual handiwork in printing, or her guidance of an expert printer. They are, most likely, unworthy of her work. She had very little of her work printed, so prints were not a big part of her photography. The criticism of not knowing “how she interpreted her work” is much ado about nothing. Maier’s vision is in her negatives. Her vision of how the images should be printed is not a critical factor in understanding her work. Maier is like many of today’s digital photographers who take a lot of photos and rarely have any printed. Fortunately her negatives hold great vision and beauty. We don’t need actual recordings of Mozart playing Mozart, or Beethoven playing Beethoven, to appreciate their work.

    • that is some very odd comparisons, but hey…
      today’s digital photographers finish their photos’ presentations, with the screen being the equivalent of a photo print. doing an actual physical print brings about further mastery and restriction, but it does not imply that the person cannot show how the final result looks. the product is finalized, or interpreted, through whatever software, be it HDR, B&W conversions, etc.

      a classical musical piece is written with full knowledge that it is to be interpreted by others, so the original performance from Mozart and Beethoven is nice to have, though not essential.

      « The criticism of not knowing “how she interpreted her work” is much ado about nothing. »
      it is more like a lament, and a missing piece. what is there to criticise? as a buyer, one either buys into the idea that a photographer goes all the way, or doesn’t. see the article linked for a measured take on this aspect of it.

      how can you make assertions to her thinking? is there only one reason, as you state, for her not printing?

      oh well… c’est la vie.

  3. I didn’t state there was only *one* reason for her not printing, nor did make assertions about her *thinking*. I am just giving my opinion based on what little is known about her. Her circumstances seem to be of someone who did not have access to high quality printing and she did not make that a priority. Her priority was to shoot a lot, as she did. The “vintage” prints are not likely to add much to our understanding of her work, and I don’t see that as a difficulty. The negatives (the “score”) hold so much and give us plenty even when expressed by others. I think the analogy to classical music holds pretty well. As you say, the original performance is nice to have, but not essential. Sometimes it doesn’t exist, or is poorly recorded.

  4. I think it should be obvious the role that economics played in her life- not being able to afford a proper darkroom (or even space for one), or the price of a professional printing service. How was she supposed to get prints that lived up to her artistry?

    What’s truly Amazing is that she could actually progress as an artist w/o being able to properly judge and assess her work!

  5. As for why the “art establishment” hasn’t embraced her- here’s a wee bit o’ insight into the twits and demagoguery that rule the netherworld of painting (same mindset)….

  6. Scott Rex Ely

    Saw the film last night. Fantastic. Joel Meyerowitz speaks as well as Mary Ellen. Truly a remarkable story. 5 Thumbs up.