photography: late fame for vivian maier

Vivian Maier, child of Austrian-French immigrants, was born in 1926 in New York, grew up in France and came back in the 50s. She died 2009 in Chicago at the age of 83. She was not a professional photographer, but a nanny who used to stroll around with her camera taking constantly pictures of what happened around her. With this hobby she created a tremendous archive of pictures that give a deep insight into society in different decades. Many of the pictures she took were never developped, but stored on the original film roll in one of her numerous boxes.

Self-Portrait Vivian Maier

Self-Portrait Vivian Maier

John Maloof, a real-estate agent who collected pictures for a book project, bought a huge part of her work at an auction for 400$ not knowing what he bought. By now he no longer works as a real-estate agent, but he finally does, what Vivian Maier never did: Publishing her work. He started a blog where he puts out step by step the archive he initially bought and pieces he bought later, then knowing what her work is worth. In April a new website with her work was launched, where you can now follow Vivian Maier’s and John Maloof’s work.

John Maloof also investigated a long time around Vivian Maier, which was not easy. He now tries to put all together in a book and a movie: Vivian Maier obviously was a very shy person (although she worked as a nanny and the kids loved her and compared her to Mary Poppins). She wore men-style-clothes, people named her a feminist and/or socialist and she loved to talk about movies and theatre. The question remaining is why she never sold her pictures herself although (as some people assume) she was (at least for some time) a homeless person at the end of her life.

Nowadays many compare her work to legendary street photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson or Diane Arbus. This somehow reminds me of Banksy’s movie „Exit through the gift shop“ where Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash constantly shooting ovies with his camera and never watching them. He also has a huge archive in a room in his house. Although in my opinion Vivian Maiers work would have been a greater loss for society then Thierry Guetta’s…

Vivian Maier’s work contains all sorts of scenery that can be seen in large cities. She created strong portraits of people regardless age or social status from neglected little girls to rich elder women or business men. She first concentrated on American cities, especially New York and Chicago, but saved her money for a world trip on which she visited Bangkok, Peking, Manila and Cairo. I could look at her work for hours – and there would still be thousands of greater pictures to see!

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