A STREET PHOTOGRAPHER

Bangkok, 21 December, 2014

Her name was Vivian Maier. She died not long ago, in 2009, at the age of 83, a spinster and childless, and penniless. She had spent some forty years, from the mid-1950s on, being a nanny for various well-off families in the Chicago area.

And she was a gifted photographer of the streets, mainly those of Chicago and New York.

She spent every possible minute that she could taking photos: in all her free time, but also when she was taking her charges for walks or to the playgrounds, as well as on her one big trip around the world, which she made in the early sixties. She took hundreds of thousands of photos. But hardly any of these made it past the stage of negatives, and many didn’t even get that far; they just stayed as rolls of unprocessed film.

She was a compulsive hoarder. She kept all the negatives and all the film rolls, and the 8 mm films she made, and the audio tapes she recorded, and just about everything else she had ever owned or collected, in cardboard boxes, old suitcases, and other containers. As she moved from one nannying job to another, she offloaded her accumulating stuff into a commercial storage space. In 2007, after she failed to keep up with her payments, the storage company auctioned her stuff off.

It looked like her work was about to disappear. But a number of photo collectors bought at the auction. They recognized a spark of genius in her photos and started trying to publicize them. A first attempt by Ron Slattery in 2008, who posted some of her photos on the internet, failed to generate much interest. Then in October 2009, six months after she died, another of the collectors, John Maloof, put some of his trove of her photos on Flickr, linked them to his blog, and the results went viral (this is a very modern story). Things snowballed from there, and her work is now beginning to garner a fair amount of critical and popular praise.

Would Vivian Maier have wanted this recognition? That is one of the questions touched upon in a fascinating documentary which John Maloof put together entitled “Finding Vivian Maier”. He tells the story of how after his initial purchase of her stuff he went on a voyage of discovery of who she was and what she did – quite a detective story – and he interviews a number of the children she nannied and their parents to try to understand what kind of person she was. It was seeing this film that moved me to write this post. I highly recommend my readers to see it if they have not done so already. And, by the way, according to the people who had known her, the answer to the question with which I started this paragraph is, probably yes for her work, but she would have intensely disliked to have the light of publicity shone on her; she was a very private person.

For those readers who want to get a taste of her work, I suggest you visit the site http://www.vivianmaier.com. I add here, from that same site, some of her photos which most struck me, to whet your appetite.
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I prefer her black-and-white photos, but I add a few of her colour photos
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That last one, with her shadow, leads naturally to a few of her self-portraits. She took a lot of photos of herself.
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In a sad postscriptum, I have just read that Vivian Maier’s estate has got entangled in a challenge about who owns the copyright to her photos. The result is that it will be probably harder to see her works for the next several years. If my readers get a chance to see an exhibition, on no account miss it. It might be a long time before you get another chance.

 

Published by

Abellio

I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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