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.

 

Street Art Utopia

I love this:

By Sainer from Etam Crew - On Urban Forms Foundation in Lodz, Poland

I got this photo off this blog my brother sent me called Street Art Utopia. Their tagline is "We declare the world as our canvas".  I like that; especially with the work they're doing with it. It amazes and inspires me when art is public, accessible and free. Making the world a better and more beautiful place. If I had my way, artists would have subsidized living expenses to help beautify the world around them, wouldn't that be nice?

By c215 in Oslo, Norway

See more of the great street art from around the world that this group has collected http://www.streetartutopia.com/?p=9303

Art Shows Beating the Heat around Austin 2: Grafficanos

Young Latino Artists 17: Grafficanos @ Mexic-Arte Museum, through Sept. 9

I think there's some debate somewhere about what it means to bring graffiti into the gallery/museum, but this show gets around that conundrum by stating these are graffiti-inspired works.  I know several of these artists continue to work as street artists, and I think it's cool that they can get both recognition of their achievements and more exposure to their work  through this show. While there are many interesting and amusing works, I particularly liked the work of both Miguel Donjuan and Niz.

In the back gallery you can also check out the Serie Project XIX featuring prints made by artists in Mexic-Arte's Serie Print Project.

Art shows beating the heat around Austin 1: Rigoberto A. Gonzalez

They say summer is a sleepy (i.e. down-and-out) time for art shows here in blazing Austin, but there are some great shows up right now in appropriately air-conditioned settings.  My next couple of posts will feature shows I've been enjoying, here's the first: Rigoberto A. Gonzalez, Baroque on the Border @ the Mexican American Cultural Center, through Sept. 1

Levanton

Gonzalez is from a small town in Texas and made his appearance on the art radar by being featured in the 2011 Texas Biennial,  followed by reviews in Glasstire and shows in Houston and now Austin.  Well worth seeing in real life, Gonzalez's paintings are made with old techniques reminiscent of Caravaggio paintings to depict the current drug war in Mexico and along the border.  The stunningly beautiful chiaroscuro lighting combined with traditional Biblical-type scenes portray horrific events, from kidnappings to beheadings, as poignant as Fernando Botero's Abu Ghraib paintings.

I particularly liked the painting above, titled Levanton (The Kidnapping), because of the emotion on each of the individual's faces and the chaotic motion of the scene, but also because of the direct stare of one of the kidnapper's right out at the viewer, like a challenge: "What are you looking at?" It's chilling and evocative; what can/should we do about this violence? The scale of some of the paintings seems to reinforce the vastness of the problems and the helplessness of it's many victims.

After the heaviness of this show, you can lighten up by visiting the community gallery downstairs featuring Matthew (Rodriguez) Bonifacio's playful show,  Scruffy Kitten.