through the lens of vivian maier

Plucked from eternal obscurity by chance, the work of a talented amateur photographer surfaces to delight the world with a different perspective.

New York-born Vivian Maier lived in France on and off as a child until she was in her 20s, when she returned to the US to toil as a nanny for various well-off Chicago families until close to her death in 2009. She was an outspoken yet fiercely private person who shared her photos with very few people. Even the families she worked for who wished to have copies of the photographs Maier took of their children had to buy prints from her.

Most of the images are of 1950s to 1980s Chicago, but Maier also traveled to and took photos in exotic places – Manila, Bangkok, and Egypt among them.

As far as it is known, she never married nor had children.

Vivian Maier (1926-2009). Self-portrait. ImageĀ here.

When she died, most of her things went into storage and were auctioned off later on upon non-payment of the storage fees.

By chance, John Maloof, a young real-estate agent, stumbled upon the trove of prints, negatives, and rolls of film, took them home, and was astounded at the richness and depth of her work in street photography.

On his blog devoted to Maier, he writes:

Her discovered work includes over 100,000 mostly medium-format negatives, thousands of prints, and a ton of undeveloped rolls of film. I have approximately 90-95% of the work.

Maloof has dedicated his time to scanning the negatives and prints in order to properly archive her work. The vast majority of the images in his possession have never been seen by anyone other than Maier.

With her work gathering such immense interest, a book and documentary about her will soon be released.

Here are some of my favorite Maier images. (They are untitled.)

I remember when my children were toddlers – they looked like this from behind, too. Image here.

I call this one “Urban Jungle Explorer.” Because the city is dangerous, you need to wear a pith helmet. Things might fall on your head. What things? I don’t know, but they might. Image here.

This is one of the few photos in color that Maloof has released; most of them were shot in black-and-white. I love the cherry-red ripeness of the subject’s dress and her nails – so 1950s. But why is her right first clenched? There’s a whole story here behind the tension. Image here.

Caveat: the change must be for the better, not for the worse. Image here.

This is my favorite. Maier definitely had a sense of humor! I dub this one “My Butt – Your Face.” Image here.

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