The Great, Vivian Maier


VIVIAN MAIER (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was an American street photographer, who was born in New York City and spent much of her childhood in France. After returning to the United States, Maier worked for about forty years as a nanny, mostly in Chicago. During those years, she took more than 150,000 photographs, primarily of people and architecture of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, although she traveled and photographed worldwide. In 1951, aged 25, Maier moved from France to New York, NY, where she worked in a sweatshop. She moved to the Chicago area’s North Shore in 1956, where Maier worked primarily as a nanny and carer for the next 40 years. For her first 17 years in Chicago, Maier worked as a nanny for two families: the Gensburgs from 1956 to 1972, and the Raymonds from 1967 to 1973. Lane Gensburg later said of Maier, “She was like a real, live Mary Poppins,” and said she never talked down to kids and was determined to show them the world outside their affluent suburb.The families that employed her described her as very private and reported that she spent her days off walking the streets of Chicago and taking photographs, usually with a Rolleiflex camera. John Maloof, curator of some of Maier’s photographs, summarized the way the children she nannied would later describe her:” She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved. … She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone.”Maier’s photographs remained unknown, and many of her films remained undeveloped, until her boxes of possessions were purchased at auction. A Chicago historian and collector, John Maloof, examined the images and began posting scans of Maier’s photographic negatives on the web in 2009, soon after Maier’s death. Critical acclaim and interest in Maier’s work quickly followed. Maier’s photographs have been exhibited in the USA, Europe, and Asia and have been featured in many articles throughout the world.[5] Her life and work have been the subject of both books and documentary films. Starting in 1956, working for the Gensburgs in an upper-class suburb of Chicago along Lake Michigan’s shore, Vivian had a taste of motherhood. Vivian was a free spirit and followed her curiosities wherever they led her. Vivian’s ‘theater of life’ was acted out in front of her eyes for her camera to capture in the most epic moments. Vivian had an interesting history. Her family was completely out of the picture very early on in her life, forcing her to become singular, as she would remain for the rest of her life. She never married, had no children, nor any very close friends that could say they “knew” her on a personal level. Maier’s photos also betray an affinity for the poor, arguably because of an emotional kinship she felt with those struggling to get by. Her thirst to be cultured led her around the globe. At this point we know of trips to Canada, in to South America, in to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, in to Florida, in Caribbean Islands, and so on. It is to be noted that she traveled alone and gravitated Her travels to search out the exotic caused her to seek out the unusual in her own backyard as well. She was a one-person documenting impresario, documenting what caught her eye, in photos, film and sound. The personal accounts from people who knew Vivian are all very similar. She was eccentric, strong, heavily opinionated, highly intellectual, and intensely private. She wore a floppy hat, a long dress, wool coat, and men’s shoes and walked with a powerful stride. With a camera around her neck whenever she left the house, she would obsessively take pictures, but never showed her photos to anyone. An unabashed and unapologetic original. Sometime between the late 1990’s and the first years of the new millennium, Vivian would put down her camera and keep her belongings in storage while she tried to stay afloat. She bounced from homelessness to a small studio apartment the Gensburgs helped pay for. With meager means, the photographs in storage became lost memories until they were sold off due to non-payment of rent in 2007. The negatives were auctioned off by the storage company to RPN Sales, who parted out the boxes in a much larger auction to several buyers including John Maloof.In 2008 Vivian fell on a patch of ice and hit her head in downtown Chicago. Although she was expected to make a full recovery, her health began to deteriorate, forcing Vivian into a nursing home. She passed away a short time later in April of 2009, leaving behind her immense archive of work.


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Wikipedia | Vivian Maier

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