Watch Vivian Maier now during January 2015 on your Direct TV channel for the entire documentary! See your local listings.
Vivian Dorothea Maier died in 2009. She was 83. Near the end of her life, she would be homeless. Having fallen on a patch of ice in Chicago, she peacefully died in a nursing home, penniless. Living most of her life as a nanny, she kept most of her possessions in storage lockers. She had a secret life. The discovery of those secrets would not be found for over 50 years. They were then discovered by sheer chance at an auction house.
At auction, John Maloof purchased an old storage locker for $380. In that storage locker were over 100,000 negatives, over 700 rolls of undeveloped color film and numerous 35mm movies. Most of the photos were in black and white. The content of the photos was breathtaking and surreal. What lay behind the photos was an ambitious, hard-working artistic photographer years ahead of her time. And she worked as a modest nanny.
Most of her photos were taken in New York and Chicago. Documenting the second half of the 20th century in photo and film is even something Maier may not have foreseen. She photo documented everyday people, places and events. She even took ‘secretive’ self-portraits in reflective materials such as silver platters, mirrors, shadows and shopping windows.
Like a spy roaming the streets, she took her Rolleiflex camera and captured thousands of photos. Snapshots and moments in time. When she arrived in New York City in 1951, she would begin to chronicle urban America. In 1956, she moved to Chicago where she would live for the remainder of her life. She would take movies and switched to color film in the early 1960’s.
“Interesting bits of Americana, the demolition of historic landmarks for new development, the unseen lives of various groups of people and the destitute, as well as some of Chicago’s most cherished sites were all meticulously catalogued by Vivian Maier.”
She was born in the Bronx, but Vivian Maier spent much of her childhood in France. About 2 years before she began work as a nanny in New York City, she purchased a Kodak Brownie Box Camera. Brownie Box Cameras were the flagship for Kodak’s promotional ‘Kodak Girl’ campaign that began in the early 1900’s. (See my post Icebergs, A Ship Wreck and The Kodak Girl) While in New York, in 1952, she purchased a Rolleiflex camera and honed her skills in classical street photography. Some of her most prolific photos would be taken in Chicago including a number of portraits of the working class and homeless. She would get strangely close to the subjects she did not know to capture a photograph.
“As she was photographing, she was seeing just how close she could come into somebody’s space. . . she could get them to accommodate her by being themselves . . . she could generate this moment and then she’s gone ”
Vivian Maier was an extremely private person and did not reveal her craft to even her closest friends. In death, she was finally discovered. She left everyone a most fascinating window into the past and everyday life in the second half of our 20th century. She is now remembered with a posthumous reputation as one of America’s most accomplished and insightful street photographers.
A scheduled exhibition of her work will be held through the Hasselblad Foundation Götaplatsen in Gothenburg, Sweden between August 29, 2014 – October 01, 2014.
Photos and Resources