On secretive Sunday artists – Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier was a nanny (New York February 1, 1926 – Chicago April 21, 2009).  During her free time she took photographs of street scenes. Some of them were printed but most stayed on film, sometimes not even developed. In those times, developing and printing photographs was expensive, especially one would imagine, on nanny’s wages. One can realize the passion Maier had for photography for the time and money she devoted on it. A true and private passion, as she never show anyone her photos. After she retired, she had to put her negatives collection (more than 100,000) in storage and ultimately, they were put off for auction due to delinquent payments. It was then that the world discover her photography. Maier was a very talented photographer, with a keen eye for composition and a bold personality, getting the characters of her photos to look right back at the camera, reminiscent of some Diane Arbus photos. Maier’s photos have the added value of documenting candidly the 40s-60s urban life in New York and Chicago. They also have the added mystic of their chance discovery and the cryptic history around them and their author.

In this sense, is valid to ask oneself, do Vivian Maier considered herself a nanny with a photography hobby or a photographer that happened to pay the bills tending to children? Was she meaning to produce any significant work, and if so, why not show it to anyone? In these Instagram times, it’s difficult to imagine taking a photo without “sharing” it, some of the latest digital cameras have built-in functions just for that and press-photographers are using now mobile phones to shoot events.

The first photographers were a sort of blend of geometers and chemists, like Lewis Carroll, who happened to be also an amateur photographer. With the recent omnipresence of photography, many people that in the past would have hesitated to to do so because of price or a perceived lack of talent, have taken photography as a hobby. How many Vivian Maiers will the future bring? A part of magic has been lost, all work is out for display. The irony, with such an overabundance of photographs and photographers: which will stand out? who would be remember? Now that photographs are virtual, once files are lost or corrupted, who will find them after our death? Maier hoarded her negatives in boxes, our photos are on hard disks and scattered on servers all around the world. They are no longer our photos, who can really trace them back to their author?

Vivian Maier photographs are splendid. They’re also truly unique, something that we might not be able to recreate again.

To know more about Vivian Maier’s story:



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