Vivian Maier: 1926 - 2009
OK. this is is a long post, but please stay with it. This is a fascinating story that has been circulating throughout the photo blogosphere recently.
I'll preface it by saying that I have always held the belief that the very act of "framing" a picture in the viewfinder is a powerful event; sometimes that act alone can be fulfilling enough. I know when I was a kid that I held the camera up to my eye and squeezed the shutter lots and lots and lots of times. Were my parents constantly feeding my addiction by buying lots and lots and lots of 120 film for my Rocket Brownie camera? I doubt it.
So, anyway, this guy named John Maloof in Chicago was apparently rooting around for some good finds at what was basically an estate sale/auction. He ended up buying a HUGE cache of someone's undeveloped rolls of film and negatives. He started developing the film and printing the negatives and found that he had come across a woman who was an extremely talented photographer who apparently had no need to see the end result of lifting the camera to her eye! No prints existed of any of this work. (In this case, it could well have been that the photographer didn't have the resources to take her pictures to the next level; it seems we may never really know for sure, though.)
No prints existed until now, thanks to Mr. Maloof.
Here is the story in his own words, as well as some of the incredible images made by Vivian Maier.
“I acquired Vivian Maier’s negatives while at a furniture and antique auction. From what I know, the auction house acquired her belongings from a storage locker that was auctioned off due to delinquent payments. I purchased her negatives and rolls of film from this auction. I didn't know what 'street photography' was then.
It took me days to look through all of her work. It inspired me to pick up photography myself. Little by little, as I progressed as a photographer, I would revisit Vivian's negatives, I would ‘see’ more in her work. I bought her same camera and took to the same streets soon to realize how difficult it was to make images of her caliber. I discovered the eye she had for photography through my own practice. I am so attached to her work.
After some researching, I have only little information about Vivian. I cannot find any relatives or heirs after a diligent search.
Central Camera (110 yr old camera shop in Chicago) has encountered Vivian from time to time when she would purchase film while out on the Chicago streets. From what they knew of her, they say she was a Jewish Refugee from wartime France who came to the U.S. in the early 1950's (some of her earlier work shows New York where she must have resided for some time). They say she was a very ‘keep your distance from me’ type of person but was also outspoken. She loved foreign films and didn't care much for American films.
Some of her photos have pictures of children and often times it was near a beach. I later found out she was a nanny for a family on the North Side whose children these most likely were. Her obituary says she lived in Oak Park, a close Chicago suburb.
Out of the 30,000-40,000 negatives I have in the collection, about 10,000-15,000 negatives were still in rolls, undeveloped from the 1960's-1970's. I have been successfully developing these rolls. I still have about 600 rolls yet to develop. I must say, it's very exciting for me. Most of her negatives that were developed in sleeves have the date and location penciled in French (she also had poor penmanship).
The way I found her name was because it was written with pencil on a photo-lab envelope. I decided to 'Google' her name about a year after I purchased these only to find her obituary placed the day before my search. She passed only a couple of days before my inquiry on her
Chicago Tribune's obituary said she was a ‘second mother to John, Lane and Matthew’. After contacting the Chicago Tribune to find out who put out the obituary, I was led to an address on the North Side that didn't exist and a phone number that was disconnected. Were John, Lane and Matthew the children she would nanny on the North Side?
I wanted to meet her in person well before I found her obituary, but the auction house had stated she was ill, so I didn't want to bother her. So many questions would have been answered if I had.”