What the nanny saw: Housekeeper’s stunning images of 1950s Chicago show working life in America in a new light
Last updated at 11:36 PM on 16th December 2011
After spending decades collecting dust the work of an unlikely artist has finally been uncovered.
To the outside world Vivian Maier was just a nanny and housekeeper working in Chicago. But she also had a hidden talent was not recognised until after her death in 2009.
Maier spent her life wandering the streets of Chicago with a Rolleflex camera strapped to her neck taking remarkable black and white pictures of a different side of the city, and a different side of life in America.
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Capturing a moment: Vivian Maier worked as a nanny in Chicago but wandered the city taking pictures. She received no fame in her lifetime but her work has been unearthed and is now featured in a a book and in a New York gallery
Birds of a feather: Vivian Maier captures a pair of pigeons feeding in Chicago. The nanny had no formal photography training but has produced a series of pictures hailed for their brilliance
Nighthawk: Vivian Maier’s pictures have been credited with having an Edward Hopper style as she captures a side of America not normally seen
Work life: Vivian Maier’s pictures depict urban Chicago scenes in an era when the Windy City was one of America’s most enterprising cities but also felt immense hardship
Snapper: Vivian Maier, pictured above, had no formal training in photography but has produced a lifetime of work that has unearthed a hidden side of life in America
Now some 100,000 pictures have been unearthed by John Maloof a real estate agent who bought the negatives as part of a storage locker at a Chicago auction house.
He had hoped to find a picture of the city for a book he was writing, but when he saw the pictures he couldn’t believe what he had found.
He told CBS: ‘The box I bought was the biggest box they had of negatives. And it was loaded to the top.
‘Her storage locker had delinquent payments. So what they do is they auction the stuff off.’
Howard Greenberg, a leading photography dealer told CBS: ‘I don’t think she ever made a penny from her photographs, but she certainly was no amateur.
‘She never showed them to anyone. Nobody knew she was making these photographs. She did them by herself, for herself, for reasons we could only guess at.’
Mr Greenberg’s New York gallery has now opened the first major exhibition of Maier’s work giving the artist the fame she never had in life.
Picturing life: Vivian Maier’s captures a little girl playing in the dirt in Chicago. Her pictures, which have been unearthed and are are now appearing in a New York gallery, show a different side of life in America
Sign of life: A man walks along the sidewalk in urban Chicago in front of blocks of apartments
Mr Maloof traced the artist to a 2009 obituary in a Chicago newspaper. Maier died aged 83 in 2009 but Mr Maloof was able to paint a picture of her life from her photographs.
He said: ‘It’s almost Mary Poppins in a way.’
Phil Donahue, who hired Maier as a nanny in the 1970s to look after his four sons, agrees with Mr Maloof’s Mary Poppins comparison. ‘There is everything but the umbrella,’ he said.
‘I saw her once taking the picture of the inside of a trash can and I thought, ‘Well, they laughed at Jackson Pollock.’ How do I know?’
Mr Maloof is still archiving Maier’s more than 100,000 negatives. He said: ‘I would have never imagine to get this big as it has.’
Maier is now the subject of a new book and the Greenberg gallery show in New York and in death her pictures are telling the story she never could.
From the shadows: Armed with a Rolleflex camera Vivian Maier spent her life wandering the streets of Chicago capturing the every day events that are often ignored
Caught on camera: A man and a woman are pictured in Chicago. More than 100,000 pictures of Maier’s work have been discovered mainly depicting life in 1950s America
Life like: As in many of her pictures this photograph of a workman smoking in a cigarette break captures the working side of life in Chicago
Self portrait: The negatives have led to a new book Vivian Maier: Street Photographer which features a collection of her work