Six weeks ago I bought a book called “Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found” by John Maloof, with forward by author Laura Lippman and text by Marvin Heiferman.
Finally got around to reading and seeing it today.
While she was still alive in 2007, five storage lockers containing boxes of negatives and documents compiled by Vivian Maier were auctioned in New York because she failed to make rental payments.
It was bought for $250 by a Chicago auctioneer, then divided into five separate lots and sold off.
Real estate agent John Maloof bought one lot for $380 that contained 30,000 negatives and other documents.
After reviewing some of the negatives and thinking there may be a back story, Maloof scanned 100 negatives and put them up for sale on eBay.
Spotted by artist & critic Allan Sekula, he advised Maloof to ‘think twice, withdraw the material, and learn more about them and their maker’.
Maloof pulled them, then searched Google after finding Maier’s name and address on a film processing label.
It led him nowhere.
Maloof tried again in April 2009 coming across a death notice for Vivian Maier placed in the Chicago Tribune and referring her as a ‘photographer extraordinaire‘.
Shortly thereafter, Maloof set up a website and blog, posting some of Maier’s images on Flickr crowdsourcing what he should do.
The images went viral, as did Vivian Maier’s private legacy.
I finally took the time to look at her images today.
An incredible, authentic eye.
Four things hit me.
First, she shot what appealed or challenged her – once – then moved on.
Her high rate of successful compositions attest to a confidence and command of her weapon of choice, predominately a Rolleiflex (twin lens reflex camers producing 2 1/4″ square format negatives).
Instragram relevant before @Instagram mattered.
Second, she shot evocative self-portraits – very, very strong self-portraits – often reflected back from mirrors and windows and surfaces with textures.
In some cases, you see Maier & the camera reflected ways that challenge the imagination; in others, her shadow is seen, subtly or boldly taking up real estate, reminding the viewer of the human hand and its relationship to creation that connects space, time and people.
Finally, she never played the art world game – apparently preferring to shoot images of the world around her (notably New York & Chicago, as well as travels to Europe, Africa & Canada) for herself.
This seems to have created a problem after her death in that mainstream curators, galleries & museums, what Hieferman says are ‘…stymied and restrained when it comes to talking about and collecting Maier’s work.’
Because she didn’t edit her work, nor print much of it either.
Hieferman says: “If the history of photography, as art museums present it, it is a story of image makers whose photographic passions are matched by the willful intention to insert themselves and their work into that history and its critical dialogue. Maier is something of an odd woman out.”
Seems like the art world needs to categorize and characterize an artist within certain linear parameters, and according to a prescribed historical narrative in order for the artist to be taken seriously, and eventually collected.
How 19th century.
Finally, she shot what was around her, wherever and whenever she was or would be.
Handling the camera(s) like a weapon, seizing moments without asking permission or feigning regret.
And without drawing attention to herself while doing it.
Its ironic how a private life spent shooting images for pleasure, professional development and who knows what other possible reason, is now such a social, public and pivotal persona.
How will history treat the photographer Vivian Maier for being an odd woman out?
I hope with the respect she has earned.
And I hope the above image evokes the spirit of Vivian Maier.
First shot. Portrait. Mrs. Maria Kostiuk preparing traditional Ukrainian cabbage rolls at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral for Rizdvo (Christmas), January 2010, Ottawa, Canada. Mrs. Kostiuk died on March 7, 2015. She was 89.