1.Beginning of the story
My photography hobby led me to discovering the captivating story of Vivian Maier.
In 2007 a 26-year old man called John Maloof entered one of the auction houses in Chicago. At this time he was working as an estate agent.
He went to the auction looking for old photographs of the neighbourhood in Chicago where he was born. He bought a box of around 30,000 negatives for $400. They all belonged to an unknown photographer called Vivian Maier.
John did not experience a “Eureka moment” regarding the photographs. He started scanning them and with time he recognised the mastery of the photographer.
To cut the long story short, John Maloof (despite any legal and ethical concerns) discovered and gave the world the incredible art of one of the most talented photographers of the 20th century.
2. Who was Vivian Maier?
Vivian was born on 1st February 1926 in New York to a French mother and Austrian father. When she was 4 year old she left the USA with her mother (her father was out of the picture) and Jeanne Bertrand, a portrait photographer.
She lived with her mum in a village in the French Alps. Vivian returned to New York in 1939 with her mother and again in 1951 alone.
She made a living by working as a nanny for wealthy families in New York until 1956 when she moved to Chicago. She continued working as a nanny for affluent families along the shore of Lake Michigan.
Vivian died in 2009, two years after John bought some of her negatives. In her later years she was penniless and three of the children she used to care for got together some finances and bought her a small apartment where they looked after her.
Some of her photographic work was put into storage lockers and due to unpaid rent on one of the lockers a collection of her negatives were auctioned off in 2007.
In 2008 Vivian slipped on the ice in downtown Chicago and hurt her head. She was admitted to a nursing home where she died.
She never married and did not have any children or close family or friends. People who knew her described her as an eccentric, very opinionated, strong willed, highly intellectual and deeply private. She claimed that she learned English from theatres and plays.
Vivian often worn a “floppy hat”, long dresses, woollen coats and man’s shoes. She had a powerful stride and her camera was always around her neck.
Vivian did not have any formal photography training. She had her first amateur camera in 1949 in France. It was a Kodak Brownie box camera with one shutter speed, no focus control and no aperture dial. However, in 1952 she acquired a much more professional Rolleiflex camera.
Vivian captured the street life of America for more than 50 years, taking more than 150,000 photographs which she never exhibited, published or showed to anyone. You do not need to be an expert to recognise the talent, the brilliance and the mastery of the Vivian’s photographs when you see them.
So, how could such a talent be among us and remain anonymous and unappreciated?
All will be revealed in Part 2.