“We have to make room for other people. It’s a wheel – You get on, you go to the end, and someone else has the same opportunity to go to the end, and so on, and somebody else takes their place. There’s nothing new under the Sun.” – Vivian Maier.
Vivian Maier, a prominent American street photographer of the 20th century, has carried the world in astonishment with her splendid works. Vivian Dorothy Maier was born on Feb 1, 1926, in New York City, US. While working as a nanny, she simultaneously ventured into the art of photography which was her passion, capturing more than 1,50,000 fascinating photos in her 50 years of a lifetime. She traveled worldwide and took photographs of architecture and people, mainly in the city of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
As she was working as a caretaker for children; her primary challenges were financial reasons, lack of stability to stay at one place, and proper storage space of her works. She used to store her belongings – photographs or negatives, newsletters, and recorded audiotapes at her employer’s residence. However, she is unknown to the public as a skilled photographer during her lifetime. Neither did she reveal the photos to near ones, given for film development, nor did she process the negatives herself. She even accumulated a huge collection of books over the years.
She lived by herself as a free bird without marriage and children. In her old age, she became poor; her three children looked after her, who were caretaken by her in their childhood. In 2009, she breathed her last in a nursing home as she was hospitalized due to an incident in which she hit her head by falling on ice.
Later, her photographs were exhibited in various museums, galleries as well as featured in magazines and newspapers worldwide, especially in European countries.
Career, Philosophy, and style of work
Vivian Maier majorly had inspiration from Jeanne Bertrand, a portrait photographer, who was staying with her during her childhood. In the earlier years before 1956, her photographs were black and white, where she was using a Kodak box camera. Later, in 1956, her photographic collection comprised color photos with the Rolleiflex camera (Types – 3.5T,3.5F,2.8C). She is known to walk down the streets with her Rolleiflex camera, taking pictures and speaking to people, enjoying her solo trips to different places and historic landmarks, compelling facts of people and places, and self-portraits that caught her eye. She was keen on picturing the narrow streets, poor children, elderly citizens, capturing the emotions of people close to her heart.
As she was a nanny herself, photography of children was one of the two dominant styles she practiced between 1970-1990. She worked in a variety of styles – from portraiture to architecture and landscape. Playful photographs of children, African children from a different walk of life, fashionably dressed females, captivating social issues, different street photographs, building facades, capturing expressions of people doing their activities, were some of the subjects she captured.
Her photographs were compelling, captivating, haunting, and they reflected how close one can come into some other space. “Suffused with the kind of human understanding, warmth, and playfulness that proves she was a real shooter”– says American street photographer, Joel Meyerowitz. In her photographs, we see abstraction and human action together. With an observation of Americans and Africans, and architecture, she focused on the lighting and shadow treatment on her photos to result in a strikingly exemplary artwork.
Recognition after death
Her photography works were less recognized during her lifetime. Her negatives were auctioned in 2007 before two years of her death since she was unable to pay up for the storage space. Three photographers and collectors of her work (John Maloof, Ron Slattery, and Randy Prow) bought and tried to receive a response to their publications; however, they received a minimal response until Chicago collector John Maloof linked his blog with the photographs and published them on Flickr, an image sharing website. Later after her death in 2009, her works gained international recognition as they appeared in various books, exhibitions, and films. Presentation of her visuals in the form of galleries escalated throughout European countries, the US, and Canada:
- London Street Photography Festival, London.
- Chicago Cultural Center
- The Art Center Highland Park
- Harold Washington Library
A documentary film on her named Finding Vivian Maier became popular and received startling responses that helped to spread her photographs all over the world. Her works were featured in several books and writers began to talk about her and published books and documentary films on her. The book is named: Vivian Maier: The Color Work – A definitive collection of color photographs by her.
These books below, too, were published that explain her personal and professional life and about how she has been recognized after her death.
- Vivian Maier: Street Photographer
- Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found
- Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife
These publications left the people in awe. Several upcoming photographers were inspired with her photographs while her story is still fascinating, mysterious and many aspects of her are still unknown. In a way, the works of Vivian Maier redefined the history of photography.
- “Vivian Maier: “Street Photographer” – Photography Book Review”. The Art Of Creative Photography, 2022, Vivian Maier: “Street Photographer” – Photography Book Review.
- 2022, http://www.vivianmaier.com/about-vivian-maier/.
- “Vivian Maier – Wikipedia”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivian_Maier.