Vivian Maier: Street Photographer

Happy 2013 everyone! My year has started off very busy, hence the lack of posts, but I hope to get back on the wagon as I have lots of fun new things to share. I'm going to start by sharing the work of photographer Vivian Maier, whose work I was introduced to through a lovely book given to me for Christmas called Vivian Maier: Street photographer by John Maloof.

Maloof stumbled across hundreds of thousands of negatives of Maier's in 2007, which she had apparently "kept secret  for over fifty years". A nanny by trade, she lived in big cities and documented city life, but never showed the images to anyone.  In the past couple of years, though, Vivian's work has become something of a sensation due to the quality of the work, the period it is documenting (primarily 1950s and '60s America), and the incredible number of images. It seems both impossible and romantic that this woman who was not trained as an artist nor a photographer should have such amazing work and also have kept it all to herself.

  Self-portrait  of the artist

You can read more about her story at the links above (or wait for the film Finding Vivian Maier), but I just want to comment on what I find inspiring about her work. First, it appears she was making art for art's sake - not for shows or fame or anything like that. And because she was taking photos only for herself, she seems to have the freedom to choose whatever subject matter she wants and in doing so manages to capture some really intimate and fascinating subjects. For example, she has this picture of a dead horse left in the street. Part of my fascination with this gruesome scene is that it gives a window, albeit a black and white one, into the streets of post-war America, when horses were still commonly used as transportation even in big cities. But I also think the photo says something about the artist (for trained or not, the quality of her photographs confirm that she had both an artist's eye and artistic talent), about the types of things she felt worth documenting. In a way many of her photos of every day occurrences remind me of Norman Rockwell illustrations, but often grittier and less optimistic.

I also really like that even though many of her photos have people in them, none of them are posing. They often seem unaware of her presence -- which is somewhat odd to me considering that cameras were much bigger and more rare than they are today -- except for this lady below, who has such an awesome expression of disgust.

Another reason I identify with her work is that Vivian was a professional nanny, and from my brief stint as a nanny I know that it can be quite a lonely profession with a lot of down time, especially if the child is young. During that time it is easy to get bored, but Vivian seems to have used whatever moments she had to take hundreds of photos of the big cities (New York and Chicago) in which she lived. I wonder if she ever shared her photos with the children in her care?

Lastly, while most of the photos have a person or an animal as the subject, I, of course, love the photos with interesting framing of architecture. I don't know what Vivian felt when she framed this shot, but amidst the interesting shapes and overlapping lines I see the buildings as a stand-in for people or relationships that appear so strong yet can crumble and leave a giant hole. Of course I'm reading into the psyche of someone we will never know, and perhaps that is the thing that strikes me most about Vivian Maier's photographs: that they make me want to have a conversation with them and create a connection with the woman behind the camera.