Vivian Maier – Street Photographer

Vivian Maier – Street Photographer, Powerhouse Books 2011

My book on Vivian Maier’s photographs has arrived and it is a handsome thing. It does great honour to this curious and talented photographer.

Maier was an amateur street photographer in Chicago. She died in her 80s in 2009, just as her life’s work was being rescued from street markets.

It is an appealing myth. A solitary genius works on a vast oeuvre which is unseen throughout her life. It’s chance discovery rescues it from certain oblivion. The discoverer is an unknown individual who stakes his career to protect the work. The anonymous photographer dies in obscurity just before being discovered. The work is presented to the public and is instantly hailed as brilliant and significant. Who wrote this plot?

Well, it’s a familiar plot because we’ve been there before: in so many ways it’s the story of Eugene Atget in the 1920s. Berenice Abbott and Man Ray discovered Atget as a journeyman photographer in Paris, realised his importance … and then he died. They are appealing myths, even though they’re true (I think).

The person who found Maier’s work is John Maloof and he has set up a very good website to display her work and tell the story. He is behind a feature length documentary in preparation. Exhibitions of her work are travelling round the world. Any living artist would would kill for this career trajectory.

An interview with Maloof can be found at Design Observer. The book is available from www.powerhousebooks.com

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My life in cameras no.23

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The Fujifilm X100 is the classiest camera I’ve ever owned. The Age newspaper voted it their camera of the year:

“Fujifilm launched the X100 in the first half of the year to general astonishment. The concept of a fixed-lens, fixed focal length, retro-styled digital camera with dual optical/electronic viewfinder and an APS sensor as used in SLRs, is brilliant. Old codgers wept a tear of recognition and nostalgia. Not only are all the controls laid out just like a film camera of yore, there is even a screw socket for an old-fashioned cable release. At $1200, this is our camera of the year.” – Terry Lane, The Age Green Guide, 9/12/2012.

It feels as good to the hand as as it looks to the eye, a camera you want to pick up and use. The size and weight make it comfortable, buttons are handy and there are plenty of them. The new hybrid viewfinder that switches magically between optical and digital is a wonderful thing – a camera you hold to your eye rather than at arms length. The retro feel is not mere fashion, it’s good sense to design a camera the way they have existed for 80 years. PetaPixel.com has made a comparison with the  Leica M3 (on the right). You can see what the designers were thinking.

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These photographs were made recently of the walls of Venice that are such a marvellous canvas for the photographer. You could spend a very long time working on just this aspect of the city. Eventually I’d get it right.

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