I found Vivian Maier

May 5, 2017 | Bill V.

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I was watching the documentary DVD Finding Vivian Maier the other day and thought what an extraordinary photographer she was. And I asked myself - would I have wanted her to be my nanny ... would I have wanted her to secretly take my photo on the streets of New York ... would I have spoken to her when she was a recluse and sitting alone on a park bench at the end of her life?  Was I envious of John Maloof for buying one of her storage lockers and discovering a trove of literally tens of thousands of undeveloped photos?


Finding Vivian Maier DVD


When I looked up the title in our catalogue I was a bit disturbed to see the first subject heading was "Eccentrics and eccentricities--United States--Biography" and only a handful of titles were linked to that subject.  Why did she deserve that description? Was it her gender - was it her career as a nanny but passion for photography... or was it that she became famous only after death? Does any of this make her eccentric per se? In the canon of photography is there only room for a limited number of female photographers - Diane Arbus or Dorothea Lange? Is she eccentric because she was a gifted non professional "secret" photographer who never published her works and who never sought fame? Is she eccentric because she was mysterious about her past?

  Diane Arbus Revelations   Dorothea Lange a Life Beyond Limits

If you're intrigued by Vivian Maier or simply like street photography then you may enjoy these following titles:

Vivian Maier Out of the Shadows

Vivian Maier Out of the Shadows is a clever title both alluding to her obscurity in life, and her "exposure" after death - but also to the mysterious quality to her photographs - her love of shadow and mirrors - especially mirrors for her self portraits.


Vivian Maier A Photographer Found

Vivian Maier A Photographer Found is by John Maloof, one of the original (although not sole) buyers of Maier's possessions at a storage locker sale. He's been a driving force in making her work better known and narrates the DVD by the same name. He also sells prints of her works from the negatives he owns. The question of the legality of this based on copyright law and who her rightful heirs are has recently arisen. Jeffrey Goldstein, who also owns a large cache of about 17,000 Maier negatives, has been selling copies made from them.

While both men have raised the profile of Maier and made her work available and famous, there is a deep irony of them profiting from her work, in so far as she died poor and unable to pay the storage locker fees (the current price for a print ranges from $2000 to $8000). Local Toronto gallery owner Stephen Bulger has also sold and exhibited Maier's work and run afoul of the copyright issue recently.


Vivian Maier Self-Portraits


Vivian Maier: Self Portraits also comes from the Maloof Archive and focuses on her own enigmatic self portraits - often in mirrors or windows - partially obscured or reflected in some way. I think they have a certain distance but also a bit of coquettish flirtation.


If you want to know more about women photographers then please see some of the following titles:

A History of Women Photographers

   Women Photographers from Julia Margaret Cameron to Cindy Sherman    Women of Vision National Geographic Photographers on Assignment

Lastly you may also be interested in an earlier blog post I wrote about Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.


I would like to say that this street photo of a well dressed but slightly Napoleonic boy is by Vivian Maier - but from what I can recall ... my cousin Diana was the photographer. 

charming photo of Bill V. circa 1967