Forgotten Photographer: Vivian Maier

I love taking photos.  I have thousands that will never be seen beyond the preview pane in Lightroom but there are a handful that I think are good enough to share.  I have Flickr500px and Facebook accounts as well as an online portfolio and this blog.  Combined they are a great way to get my images seen without having to spend too much money and time.  My Flickr photos, for example, have amassed over 40,000 independent views since I opened my account:

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Imagine then what is it like to be a photographer who never shared any of their images.  Despite taking hundreds of thousands of images Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was not recognised as an amazing photographer until after her death.  Working as a nanny in the 1950-60’s she filled her spare time taking candid images on the streets of France, New York, Chicago and dozens of other locations.

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In 1949 Vivian took an interest in photography and started shooting with a Kodak Brownie camera.  In 1951 her work as a nanny brought her back to New York and the following year she bought a Rolleiflex camera in order to improve her images.  Several years later she made the switch to colour film and started using a Leica IIIc.  The move into colour also marked a change in photographic subject.  Her images became less about people and more abstract.  Found objects such as rubbish and graffiti became her focal point.  Her poor financial state in the late 1980’s meant the she struggled to pay for film processing costs.  Despite this she continued to shoot but the rolls of undeveloped film began to mount up.  Many of her possessions, including her negatives and films, were put into storage as Vivian temporarily became homeless.  In 2007 the locker containing her photographs was sold to John Maloof to cover unpaid rent bills.

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Vivian was taken to hospital in 2008 after slipping on ice and injuring her head.  She was expected to make a full recovery, but instead her health began to deteriorate forcing her into a nursing home. Vivian died in the nursing home in April 2009.

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Maloof was working on a book about New York and was after images showing the city through the ages.  He was not aware of the photographic importance of his purchase until he started posting some of the images on his Flickr pages.  Feedback started to pour in and the artistic world sat up and took notice.

A Chicago broadcast station was one of the first to tell the story of Vivian Maier and they have several videos about her.  The first was aired in December 2010 and can be found below.

They revisited the story in August 2012 with two more interesting pieces:

Various news agencies have picked up on the Maier story but the BBC World News has one of the better articles.

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The story of Vivian Mayer and the Maloof Collection has recently been turned into a documentary film and is currently in the final stages of production.  A short segment of the film has been released on CBS and can be found here.  I’m personally not sure if I’m a fan of the cheesy American voice-over, but hopefully that won’t be present in the final release.

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For those seeking to own any of Vivian Maier’s work it may be possible to buy limited edition prints from the Howard Greenberg Gallery.  As there are no prices listed then I dread to think how much the prints actually are!

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For a more realistically priced purchase you can try one of the two books of her work that are currently available.  Vivian Maier Street Photographer is currently selling for around £23.  A book containing alternative images from a separate collection is Vivian Maier Out of the Shadows £30.  These images are from the Jerry Goldstein collection of 20,000 of Maier’s images.  Although the print quality of this book is considered to be higher than that of the Maloof book it seems from reviews that the cheaper book contains the strongest images (and Maloof has almost 100,000 source images to chose from!).

All images are Copyright the Maloof Collection 2013.

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