Finding Vivian Maier

by Harlan, March 14, 2013

If Vivian Maier was such a private person, especially surrounding her interest in photography, it’s likely she would not be happy with all the attention her photography has been receiving.

Why would a photographer create wonderful art with no intention of sharing it with anyone else, even her closest friends? Perhaps Meier didn’t see herself as a photographer at all. As an obsession, the act of photography is different than a desire to make art. It’s possible she brought her camera on the streets of Chicago and New York so frequently because she felt, in some delusional way, that it was something she needed to do.

Instead of sharing this passion with any other individual, she left rolls of undeveloped film and a hundred thousand negatives in a storage locker. So much of her work had never been developed, and only a small percentage of her work had ever been printed. I think that’s a pretty strong signal that she was never as strongly interested in the images as she was in just the act of taking photographs.

I get the impression that had someone seen her work during her lifetime and told her how fantastic the photos are, she might not have been interested.  By the time Maier, whose primary occupation was that of a nanny, passed away, she had already been identified as a photographer. Her obituary described Maier:

Vivian Maier, proud native of France and Chicago resident for the last 50 years died peacefully on Monday. Second mother to John, Lane and Matthew. A free and kindred spirit who magically touched the lives of all who knew her. Always ready to give her advice, opinion or a helping hand. Movie critic and photographer extraordinaire. A truly special person who will be sorely missed but whose long and wonderful life we all celebrate and will always remember. Memorial donations can be given to the Native American Heritage Association, P.O. Box 512, Rapid City, SD 57709.

Published in Chicago Tribune on April 23, 2009

All of Maier’s photographs had been placed in storage, and when she was unable to continue paying the storage fees a few years before she died, an auction house bought and sold the contents to a Chicago historian. By the time the purchaser determined who the photographer was behind the images, she had already passed away.

The historian who owns Maier’s photographs is producing a documentary about the mysterious and aloof photographer. The trailer is above.

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