Vivian Maier – The Unknown Master Street Photographer

Self-portrait of Vivian Maier

Recently word of the phenomenal discovery of street photographer Vivian Maier has been hitting the web like wildfire.  A fellow Chicago street photographer by the name of John Maloof found Vivian’s negatives in 2007 while at a furniture and antique auction house. After scanning and looking through her collection of 30-40,000 negatives, he soon realized that she had a tremendous gift for street photography. Not only that, but he realized that he also had a huge responsibility to share her work with the rest of the world.

After Maloof first posted his discovery on the Hardcore Street Photography group on Flickr, her story has been picked up and covered by many bloggers as well as the mainstream media.

Long story short, she was a French-born photographer who lived in Chicago from 1926-2009, and took thousands of images throughout her lifetime. According to research from Maloof, she came to the US as a child and worked in a sweatshop for some time in New York. After that, she worked as a nanny for a Chicago family for many years. According to the children she nannied, they described her:

She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved. She wore a men’s jacket, men’s shoes and a large hat most of the time. She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone. [Citation]

Nobody quite knows why she never shared her photographs with the world. Although there is no evidence that she was formally trained in photography, her belongings show that she owned many photography books which she most likely studied composition, technique, and how to capture the decisive moment. As for you gear-junkies, she shot with a Rolleiflex.

I find this story fascinating for several reasons. First of all, I believe that it reflects the fact that there are still thousands upon thousands of unknown or undiscovered artists who weren’t fortunate enough to get the mainstream acclaim that Vivian Maier has. In-fact, I believe all of us have a bit of Vivian Maier inside of us. However the fact which differentiates Vivian Maier from the rest of us is that for some reason or another, is that she purposefully withheld from sharing her work– while most photographers out there strive to share their work with others.

Why didn't Vivian Share Her Work? Another Self-Portrait of Her

Regardless, Vivian Maier is destined to go down in history as a master street photographer, along with the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau. Her work is truly oustanding, and shows a quite personal story of Chicago and New York life through her eyes.

Not only that, but a documentary and a book is currently in the works. Although the project is fully-funded through Kickstarter, you can still donate today!

A mainstream media outlet, Chicago Tonight, also covered a fantastic story on her as well.

Below are some of my favorite images from Vivian, taken from John Maloof’s blog.