05 March 2012

Discovering Vivian

"Chicago (Three Elderly Women Staring)" Vivian Maier (ca. 1967)

A few weeks ago I managed to run over to the Steven Kasher Gallery and catch the last day of a Vivian Maier exhibit. I had read articles about the discovery of her work and was interested to see some examples up close.

Born in 1926
, Vivian Maier was a nanny in Chicago who spent her free time roaming the streets with her camera, capturing the people around her. The result was more than 100,000 photos documenting street life in the 1950s and 1960s. Extremely private, Maier never shared her work with anyone; in fact, she rarely printed any of her negatives. Instead she filed them away, keeping her them a secret. It wasn’t until 2007 when John Maloof bought at auction a box of Maier’s negatives (they had been in a storage unit that was seized for non-payment) that Maier was discovered. Maloof has since gone on to collect roughly 90 percent of her work, which includes negatives, prints, and countless rolls of undeveloped film.

"Untitled (Girl with Clown Costume)" Vivian Maier (ca. 1960s)

The exhibit was small but impressive, giving the viewer a good sense of Maier’s work. The photos showed she had a gift for composition. “Chicago (Three Elderly Women Staring)” with it’s dour-faced women is made comical by the sign behind them that reads “Welcome to Chicago.” She also had an eye for the surreal. The position of the young girl in the photo “Untitled (Girl with Clown Costume)” at first glance gives the appearance of a child’s head on an adult’s body. The clown makeup only adds to the strangeness of the image.

"Self-Portrait (Full-Length, Checkered Dress)" Vivian Maier (1955)

Included too were some self portraits—Maier’s reflection in a window or her shadow on a sidewalk. One from 1955 is a full-length portrait, with Maier looking sideways with her trusty Rollei in her hands. As usual, this intensely private woman let her camera speak for her.

To find out more about Vivian Maier and her photos, visit

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