Vivian Maier – The Secret Street Photographer

A 1954 self-portrait by Vivian Maier. – Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

Last night whilst flicking through the channels on the television, I came across a documentary titled ‘Finding Vivian Maier’. Thinking, ok it looked kind of interesting I watched. It turned out to be a good flick, what an interesting story it turned out to be.

Vivian Maier, was born in New York in 1926. She earned a living as a nanny / maid in the wealthy suburbs of Chicago. During these various times of employment she would take to the city streets, photographing the people going about their everyday lives. Often dragging her little charges along with her.

Described as a very private person, it is clear from the people interviewed (previous employers and the children she had nannied) that not much was known about her past and where she originated from. Assumptions where made that she was originally from France, due to her accent. As it turns out she was born in New York to a French Mother. It was suggested that her accent was affected, although she did spend much of her childhood in France, travelling back there often.

Many of the people who know her also described Vivian as eccentric possibly slightly crazy, which often led to termination of employment. She was remembered for her constant collecting of newspapers, from which she would take cuttings of stories which showed the failings of humanity, murder, rape and child abuse. It is thought that Vivian herself went through some trauma and was often put as the reason for her behaviour.

Now when I refer to her as ‘The Secret Street Photographer’ I do not mean she was spying on and surreptitiously photographing people. The secret was in just how prolific she was in her photography and the number of negatives that were found upon her death.

1961. Chicago, IL
1961. Chicago, IL
1954, New York, NY
1954, New York, NY
September 1953, New York, NY
September 1953, New York, NY

Towards the end of her life, Vivian was living in a small apartment, paid for, as she was by now fairly poor, by the sons from a family she once worked for. A fall on some ice was the beginning of the decline of her health. Having never married and with no children of her own, she was forced into a nursing home. Sadly Vivian died in April 2009.

The volume of work came to light when at a Chicago auction, historian, John Maloof bought some of the boxes of Vivian’s effects. Inside were over a 100,000 negatives. John Maloof has now become Vivian’s champion, working hard to get her the recognition she deserves, even in the face of disinterest from some of America’s most important galleries and museums.

Some of her work can be viewed online at ‘Vivian Maier Photographer‘ and official prints can be bought through the Howard Greenburg Gallery.

Much of her work has now been exhibited all over the world and has since been viewed by thousands of people, proving that regardless of what the most prestigious art institutes may think, Vivian’s work has much to say.


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