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:
I’ve read that a good photographer knows, among others, to wait for the right moment,the camera features, how to take advantage of the light conditions, how to compensate for them, which settings to use, etc, etc.
I’m not a good photographer, I’m a Sunday photographer with negligible training but lots of good will, as I guess any Sunday artist in general oughts to be. Maybe I’m being unfair, putting other Sunday photographers in the same circumstances as me so I’ll have to create a new category for my particular style “Photo-butcher”. There.
The basics of the Photo-butcher method are the well known spray and pray, known since the times of film, but with the new, unlimited possibilities offered by digital photography – more intelligent cameras! unlimited storage! do-it-yourself editing capabilities!
Photography, since the Kodak Brownie days, has been embraced by the masses, but there was always a tacit acknowledgment that in order to get good images, a certain amount of skills and technique needed to be acquired. But now we have Scenes modes! Instagram filters! Lightroom presets! Cameras that compensate for motion blur, calculate aperture and speed instantly, recognize open eyes and smiling faces! Oh, and all the artistic possibilities of processing! You can have your photos on black and white, which means that they become de facto pieces of art, isn’t it? Everybody knows black and white means artsy, and the grainier the better! Or you can go all Lomo-loco with super saturated colors, burned highlights and black vignettes.
But you see, I’ve been there and done all that. Now I’m a stage of the Photo-butcher art where I would like a new challenge – real-life photography. I know, it’s not easy. I mean, how to avoid distorted perspectives? glaring tone overcasts? sharp images that doesn’t look cartoon-ish?
Let’s take this example, three photos taken at the same location, with different settings. Don’t ask me which settings because I can’t remember. I was in spray, pray and photoshop (SPP) mode 🙂
See how the three photos have very different color settings? Well, we can always pick one and discard the rest. But if I needed the three of them for a professional project?
Thankfully I need not worry as my income doesn’t depend on the quality of the images I produce. That’s a rare privilege of the Sunday Photo-butcher though I guess at some point I’ll need to be more serious about revising the basics of photography and come to terms with the camera manual. Oh well…