Vivian Maier was 83 years old when she died in 2009. However, she was not able to see her work as a photographer. This nanny took more than 150,000 photographs during her career, primarily of the people and architecture of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, although she also traveled and photographed worldwide. Without a doubt, a pioneer in street photography that never had the recognition that she deserved.
Street photography global phenomenon
Nowadays Vivian’s work quality is unquestionable, and exhibitions about her work have taken place around half the world. Maier had a unique look that gave value to everyday banal situations, where the urban landscapes of New York or Chicago alternated with the daily life of a nanny. Exhibitions about his work have been a success; even a documentary that collects her history has been shot.
From Life’s Prism we also want to echo the story of this unique photographer. And we ask ourselves another question: How many treasures can be found still hidden in storage rooms and basements? How many photographers are still hidden, their talent being unrecognized? As lovers of photography we can not allow it! So, if you have a talent like Vivian Maier‘s you must exploit it every day. Do not stop photographing and recording your reality and showing it to the world.
It was years before Maloof could attract interest in Maier’s work. The first time he searched for her name on the internet he found nothing and it was only by chance that when he tried again in 2009 he found a brief obituary. Spurred on by the warm response to a photography blog he put together, he began writing to museums and, when these approaches were rejected, put on his own exhibition. Now he has made a film, Finding Vivian Maier, which pieces together her life story and makes a case, heartfelt if not disinterested (as Maloof owns the copyright), for her as an artist of comparable importance to great names of 20th-century American photography such as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank and Weegee.
Maier shot glamorous women shopping and dramatically lit buildings. A letter found among her possessions suggests that she may on occasion have worked for a newspaper. But most of the celebrated images that now sell for thousands and hang on gallery walls depict people on the powerless fringes of society: African Americans, children, the old and the poor.
Her camera, a Rolleiflex, was operated at chest level, which allowed the photographer to maintain eye contact with the person whose picture she was taking. Many of her strongest and most memorable shots are of people staring straight at her.
So what was it like to be looked after by this remarkable character who described herself as a “mystery woman” and “sort of a spy”? Joe Matthews and Sarah Ludington, six and nine respectively when Maier arrived, and their mother, Linda, share their memories of Maier in three conversations that are intriguing for the different lights they throw on her.
“As an adult I would say she was a person who had a lot of baggage, literally and figuratively,” says Joe. “It was so bizarre. I went into the attic maybe three times the whole time she was my nanny and the stacks of newspapers were taller than me. It was like walking through a valley of newspapers.”