“We have to make room for other people. It’s a wheel – you get on, you go to the end, and someone else has the same opportunity to go to the end, and so on, and somebody else takes their place. There’s nothing new under the sun.”
Vivian Maier – an unpretentious nanny with a passion for photography. The story of this remarkably talented woman who never showed her work to anyone while she was alive has raised a great deal of attention in the photography world.
Thanks to historian John Maloof from Chicago, Vivian Maier is now – postmortem – receiving the recognition she deserves; putting her in the league of the most important US-street photographer of the 20th century. It all began when Maloof purchased a box full of negatives at an auction. Looking through the material at home he quickly realized what he had in hand: a true photographic treasure. In the following Maloof tried in vain to find the identity of the artist. It wasn’t until he stumbled upon an obituary in the local paper in 2009 that he knew that a nanny called Vivian Maier was the author of the brilliant street photographs.
Ever since then, Maloof has dedicated a great deal of his time to go through and edit the material Vivian Maier had left behind: almost 150.000 negatives. There’s very little we know about Vivian Maier. She was born in 1926 in New York and later moved to the area around Chicago were she spent her live taking care of the children of several families. In her free time she used to go for long walks with her Rolleiflex camera documenting street life in Chicago. Her images are the record of a woman with a great gift for photographic composition and ability to capture candid moments.
“We’ll never know the answer to the question why she kept her beautiful work a secret.”
They also show her great interest in the world around her – yet she wasn’t keen on sharing her photographs with other people. Did she think that they weren’t good enough? Or was she simply too shy? We’ll never know the exact answer to the question why she kept her beautiful work a secret. But a rare quote from her, taken from a recording, Vivian Maier revealed her outlook on life: “We have to make room for other people. It’s a wheel – you get on, you go to the end, and someone else has the same opportunity to go to the end, and so on, and somebody else takes their place. There’s nothing new under the sun.”
There’s nothing new under the sun. Maybe, in a humble way, she thought of her photography as not being anything special; nothing that hadn’t been done before. Fortunately her legacy was discovered before had disappeared into oblivion with Maier’s death. The book “Vivian Maier Street Photographer”, edited by John Maloof and published by powerHouse Books, gives a chance to enter the world of that remarkable image taker – and shows that Maier’s pictures were after all special; nothing that just anyone with a camera in hand could have done.
You might also find interesting the book Vivian Maier Self-Portraits. It’s a beautiful collection of images that are further proof of an artist who prefered to step back behind her art – even when photographing herself.
Vivian Maier Street Photographer (2012) Photographs by Vivian Maier, edited by John Maloof, published by powerHouse Books.
Check out my photography podcast – conversations with inspiring photographers from around the globe sharing their secrets for creating amazing images. It’s mostly in German, but here are some episodes in English:
Valerie Jardin: “Street Photography – Creative Vision Behind The Lens”
Dmitry Stepanenko: “Heavy Color” Street Photography
Jason Koxvold: “Knives” – Left Behind In Rural America”
Dyanne Wilson: Chasing The Northern Lights In Yellowknife
Luc Kordas: Loneliness In New York