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.