Weekend Reads: America’s greatest photographer may have been nanny who never showed pictures to anyone
Vivien Maier worked as a children’s governess in Chicago in the 1950s. She would take her young charges for walks through the worst parts of the city, snapping pictures. She never showed anyone her photos, until real estate agent John Maloof bought over 100,000 of her negatives at auction for $380 in 2007. Once developed, the photos of Maier were beautiful and icy in their perfection. Before Maloof could track her down to ask her question, Maier died at the age of 83 following a fall on an icy sidewalk in 2009.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) – Many in the art world have declared Maier the world’s “greatest street photographer” and one of America’s greatest photographers, but much remains behind closely locked doors following her death. Her employers remember her as a very secret person, who developed her negatives in an attic whose door was kept firmly closed at all times.
Maier’s photographs recall those of Diane Arbus in their unadorned simplicity and harrowing subject matter. While very guarded and silent, Maier’s photos fearlessly looked at the poor, aged and deformed in bleak surroundings. Many of her photographs are also happy and light-hearted as well, such as shots of families out enjoying sunny days on the street or beach. The composition and texture are as accomplished as any professional photographer of today and yesteryear. Maier kept her work an intensely private affair.
Maloof began developing his new collection of 100,000 negatives in total, which had previously been abandoned in a storage locker in Chicago before they ended up at the auction house. It became clear these were no ordinary street snaps. After a frantic search to find the incandescent talent behind these unique pictures, Maloof sadly learned of Maier’s death in an obituary notice in the Chicago Tribune.
Maier’s photos have since received international mainstream media attention alongside exhibitions all over the world including London, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Hamburg and Oslo.
Maloof has since made a documentary film about the incredible discovery of a lost talent entitled “Finding Vivian Maier.”
The film is scheduled for release some time in 2013. Watch the trailer below and wait for the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up.
“I do have a few extra bits of information for you such as that Vivian was born in New York and raised somewhere in France (exact location unknown),” Maloof says.
“Interestingly, records show a young Vivian Maier and her mother lived with Jeanne J. Bertrand for some time, a French pioneer of photography who knew the founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art. It’s highly possible that Vivian developed her secret talent thanks to Jeanne Bertrand.”
Maier then moved to New York at 25-years-old and worked in a sweat shop for a while until she would become a nanny for the next 40 years on and off.
“When she had days off, she would walk the streets of Chicago or New York, most often using her Rollieflex camera, photographing everyone and everything from the well-dressed shoppers to homeless people and even her own reflection,” Maloof said.
Maier’s life is highly inspirational, as Maloof explains it, “In a modern climate of celebrity culture, it’s so rare to hear about someone that wasn’t doing it for money or fame. For Vivian it was just about her curiosity, her love for her city and the thrill of taking a picture.”