The Strange Case of Vivian Maier

The posthumous career of Vivian Maier develops apace. Amy Stein’s blog has a new video about her, and Chicago Tonight has a longer one. You must see them.

Maier is a great enigma, a completely unknown street photographer who left behind a massive body of excellent work which she never exhibited. It was only discovered by chance when Chicagoan John Maloof bought some boxes at a flea market. They turned out to contain over 3000 prints and 100,000 negatives! The parallel with Berenice Abbott’s discovery of Atget’s work is inescapable, except that Maier’s obscurity as a photographer was absolute.

Maier’s work is street activism in the mode of Diane Arbus or the New York Photo League. Photographing from the 1950s up until the 90s, she worked up close, recording the dynamic life of Chicago’s streets. The images show a bold, observant eye, human and often humorous, but “not out to charm anyone” as Joel Meyerowitz says. You can judge for yourself on Maloof’s website of her work here.

The Chicago Cultural Center is holding a retrospective, a book is due out soon and a feature-length documentary is on the way. Isn’t it poignant that she died in 2009, just as this discovery was happening?

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The images are copyright John Maloof Collection inc, taken from his blog.

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