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The Continuing Story of Vivian Maier

The Continuing Story of Vivian Maier

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New photos still emerging by a recently-discovered 20th century master photographer

August 15, 2011

Since the late Ms. Maier's street photography was first discovered over a year ago by Chicago-based realtor John Maloof, there have been exhibits of her work, a book is being published, and a film about her life is being made. And we've barely scratched the surface.

A quick recap

The story of how Vivian Maier was discovered—and how her photographs have earned her recognition as one of the most important photographers of the mid-late 20th century—is a compelling one. When I wrote about her earlier this year, her work was just surfacing and surprising many. A lot as happened in a short time; let's recap the backstory...

John Maloof, a realtor, acquired Vivian's negatives at a furniture and antique auction while researching a history book he was co-writing about Chicago. The contents of a storage locker rented by Vivian were being sold off due to delinquent payments. Only after the purchase did Maloof discover that he had a treasure-trove of street photography—and that Vivian Maier, whose name was written in pencil on one of the photo lab envelopes in the locker, died just a day before Maloof decided to seek her out. Her life remains mostly unknown. She worked as a nanny for a family on the North Side of Chicago; she was a private person who was highly opinionated.

Says Maloof: “I wanted to meet her in person well before I found her obituary but, the auction house had stated she was ill, so I didn't want to bother her. So many questions would have been answered if I had.” Maier passed away in 2009 at 83.

Since Maloof's discovery became widely known this past December, articles about Vivian Maier have appeared in the New York Times, Time Magazine, Mother Jones, and the Wall Street Journal and reports have aired on the CBS Evening News, CTV and NPR among many other sources.  Not only did Vivian's after-life change, but so did Maloof's; the two people's lives are forever intertwined. John Maloof is now the curator of the Vivian Maier collection.

 

 

Back to the present: Vivian jumps the shark

For starters, Maloof launched a much more user-friendly web site that offers the best of Maier's work so far and is worth a look. In the images you can see the influence of Walker Evans, Garry Winogrand, Lisette Modell, and other contemporary photographers of her time. There are even images that pre-date the work of Diane Arbus but anticipate her approach.

A traveling exhibit, Vivian Maier: A Life Uncovered, is currently showing in conjunction with the London Street Photography Festival. Other shows have taken place in Chicago, Hamburg, Germany, Oslo and  Denmark. Look for A Life Uncovered to arrive in New York in December and another show happening almost simultaneously in Los Angeles.

A new book, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, is in production now and will be available on November 1. It is priced at $49.50 and is likely to become a collector's item. You can pre-order it on Amazon.

Finally, a new movie, Finding Vivian Maier, is currently in the works. I can't wait to see it.

 

What's next?

The short answer is: More pictures! John Maloof and collaborator Tony Rydzon continue to scan and print Maier's work, and most of it remains unseen. “At this point we're heavily weighted towards the earliest period of Vivian's works shot in the US,” says Maloof in a statement on his web site. The excitement of discovery has clearly caught on, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Vivian Maier's photography evolved.

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