Artist Series: Introducing… Vivian Maier

April 24, 2013

Arts, Photography

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier  was an American amateur photographer, born in New York on February 6,1926, but grew up in France. Maier’s images predominantly depict street scenes in Chicago and New York, in the 1950s and 1960s. The majority of her photographs are portraits.

Although Maier began taking pictures in the 1950’s, her works were only recently discovered in 2007 by  author/historian, John Maloof.

When Maloof desperately needed 220 high quality vintage photos, he looked everywhere, and eventually bought Maier’s images at a local auction without knowing the contents. The photographer’s images were not used in his book; however, they were kept in his closet. When the book was finished, Maloof returned to Maier’s works and posted a discussion on Flickr to the group Hardcore Street Photography. The responses were overwhelming, since then, Maloof has been promoting and preserving Vivian Maier’s work.

Maier captured the scenes of Chicago during the 1950s and 1960s.Throughout her childhood, Maier lived with an award winning photographer named Jeanne Bertrand; this suggests that there is a strong chance that she was taught by Bertrand. Sometime in 1949, Maier started playing with her first photos with a Kodak Brownie box camera. When the photographer returned to the United States in 1951, she worked as a nanny for 50 years. In those 50 years, Maier took approximately 100,000 to 150,000 images.

When she was hired as a nanny in Chicago, she created her own dark room, using her private bathroom. In this room, she was able to process her own prints and black and white film. As a nanny, she continuously lost her employment, due to children growing up. From time to time, she had to live on the streets.

Until 1951, Maier only took controlled portraits and landscapes. In 1952, there was a dramatic turn in her style;  she started shooting with an expensive Rolleiflex camera. She captured street scenes with precision similar to Henri-Cartier-Bresson, street portraits evocative of Lisette Model and compositions similar to Andre Kertesz.

Many of Maier’s works are much like Lisette Model’s, another street photographer. Several pictures are almost a copy of Model’s images and many believe that Model has influenced Maier’s works the most.

Describing her work, Maloof said: Elderly folk congregating in Chicago’s Old Polish Downtown, garishly dressed dowagers, as well as the persecution of African-Americans, were all fair game for Maier’s lens.”

Many of Maier’s photos portray sympathy for the poor, arguably because she felt an emotional kinship with those who are struggling.

Her passion for documenting was also important; she had a series of homemade documentary films and audio recordings.Vivian Maier was eccentric, strong, heavily opinionated, highly intellectual, and intensely private.

Jennifer Shim


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