Here’s one of those stories where you have to die to become famous.
Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was a nanny with a passion for photography. She roamed the streets of New York and Chicago. Apparently she never left home without her camera. She took over 100.000 photographs but only printed a fraction of them.
She became poor…but three persons she took care of when they were children, remembered her and gave her an apartment to live in.
Later, after she had died, private lockers were opened, to reveal the stuff that she had collected throughout her entire life…small things, newspaper clippings, and thousands of negatives.
She was what we call now a street photographer. She documented everyday live in the streets of the big city. Everyday scenes of ordinary people. A lot of her shots show children and women, sometimes posing in front of her camera, but also caught off guard. She had an eye for detail, focussing for example on a lady’s hairdo or her shoes.
Very striking is her fascination for photographing reflections in mirrors or shop windows. In this way she also became the protagonist of her own images. She appears in them with her camera in her hands. These selfportraits reveal a woman that curiously enough didn’t want to be the centre of attention. Except for her hat and her camera, she had a very common appearance.
As anonimous as she was herself, a major part of her images are untitled and even undated. Apparently she had no intention whatsoever to expose herself nor her work to the rest of the world. In some pictures she is present, but only in the form of her shadow.
Why did she never show her photos to anyone? Why did she hide them in lockers so nobody could find them? Did she think her images were not good enough? Or was she just to poor to print them? Was the action of taking photographs more important to her than the image itself? Did she want to avoid any recognition?
The image we get of her is one of an introvert woman, maybe a bit lonely.
She remains a little mystery. But her images are talking clearly, leaving us an important document on American society.
Her work can be seen at the Steven Kasher Gallery, together with Weegee (see my previous post). Putting Maier and Weegee together is an adventure! And a striking contrast! Weegee was after bloody action and shocking news. Maier shows a kinder image of the same society.