Meet Street Photographer Vivian Maier

First, my intention for this week is to brush my way into an oil painting using one of my charcoal figure sketches as a guide. It will be difficult as I have only the one sketch to work with and I have a particular setting in mind that has been inspired from a passage from The Underpainter (1997) by Jane Urquhart. Regrettably, I am reluctant to share more than this with you at the moment. It is an image that is perfectly clear in my mind’s eye with shifting tones and composition every time the painting whispers for me to begin the process to stillness on canvas. I will honour last week’s principle of waiting to be invited… but act immediately when asked. This way, with luck, the image won’t slip away like mist in the afternoon sun.

Now, allow me to introduce the most extraordinary Street Photographer Vivian Maier with the most unusual passage into notoriety. Her work was discovered in 2007 by a 26 year old, real estate agent/entrepreneur/historian – John Maloof –  after he purchased a box of her negatives at an auction for $400. According to this brief excerpt about Vivian Maier in Wikipedia:

In 1951, at 25 years old, Vivian Maier moved from France to New York, where she worked for some time in a sweatshop. She made her way to the Chicago area’s North Shore in 1956 and became a nanny on and off for about 40 years, staying with one family for 14 of them. She was, in the accounts of the families for whom she worked, very private, spending her days off walking the streets of Chicago and taking photographs, most often with a Rolleiflex camera.

John Maloof, curator of Maier’s collection of photographs, summarizes the way the children she nannied would later describe 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.

Between 1959 and 1960, Maier traveled to Los Angeles, Manila, Bangkok, Beijing, Egypt, Italy, and the American Southwest, taking pictures in each location. The trip was probably financed by the sale of a family farm in Alsace. For a brief period in the 1970s, Maier worked as a nanny for Phil Donahue’s children. As she got older, she collected more boxes of belongings, bringing them with her to each new post. At one employer’s house she stored 200 boxes of materials. Most were photographs or negatives, but Maier collected other objects, such as newspapers,and sometimes recorded audiotapes of conversations she had with the people she photographed.

Towards the end of her life, Maier may have been homeless for some time. She lived on Social Security checks and may have had another source of income, but the children she had taken care of in the early 1950s bought her an apartment and paid her bills. In 2008, she slipped on ice and hit her head. She did not fully recover and died in 2009 at the age of 83.

This video provides an excellent overview…

Also, here are the Vivian Maier blog and the Vivian Maier Photography website.  I am trusting that you may be as intrigued and inspired by her work as I am. Enjoy!

A new photograph “Tomorrow’s Dawn” seems like the most fitting image to share this Monday.

(image may be purchased here.)

Sprout question: What creative treasure might you have tucked away for future discovery?

© 2011 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

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Creative Potager – where imagination rules. Be inspired.

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

14 thoughts on “Meet Street Photographer Vivian Maier

  1. Terrill,

    After I wipe the tears from my eyes, I say Holy Wow! Vivian Maier’s found work is amazing, and the story of finding her work is amazing. How did you come by seeing this?
    I am not sure if I have the words to express what my feelings are about this find… Truly moved that is for sure.
    I am going to check out the blog and website.

    As for your image, beautiful! Your continued passion is an example of creativeness in action.

    I am Love, Jeff

    • Jeff it was one of those serendipitous discoveries that came from skipping through tweets like a rock up a stream of various tweet friends. Her work is captured the attention of the art community though and a show opened Friday, 7 January at the Chicago Cultural Center and runs until Sunday, 3 April if anyone happens to be in the neighbourhood. And thanks Jeff for your kind words of encouragement. Enjoy an artist’s date with Vivian Maier 🙂

  2. Terrill – Thank you for the wonderful introduction. What an INCREDIBLE woman!

    You’ve definitely piqued my curiosity with the statement, “Regrettably, I am reluctant to share more than this with you at the moment. It is an image that is perfectly clear in my mind’s eye with shifting tones and composition every time the painting whispers for me to begin the process to stillness on canvas.”

    Sprout question: What creative treasure might you have tucked away for future discovery?

    Have you ever placed something into a really good spot for safekeeping and discovered — much to your dismay — that it was such a good hiding spot you couldn’t find it again for a really long time, but when you finally happened upon it you gasped in sheer delight?

    I can’t remember what I put there, or where I put it, but I know I’ll gasp in sheer delight when I stumble upon it 🙂

    By the way, “Tomorrow’s Dawn” is beautiful.

    • I can tell you Laurie I am off to a good start on my new painting but you will have to wait until the end of the week for more details 🙂

      I usually find those really safe places to keep things when I move. I usually am thrilled and laugh really hard because of course they are in a perfectly reasonable location… just one I never thought of looking.

      Glad you enjoyed “Tomorrow’s Dawn” Laurie. Best of the week to you!

  3. Terrill, thank you for introducing this amazing woman. Her photographs are so compelling. They demand attention….. no rushing through these. Like Jeff, I found that they touched me deeply… some of your work also does.

    • Thanks Alison. You response makes me smile… from what I have seen, I bet you have more than that tucked away in your creative treasure chest awaiting discovery 🙂 On that note, I really liked your Mindfulness post from last week. George Gurdjieff is someone my husband David has studied. I have read bits and pieces about him and his principles. David gave me a copy of LADIES OF THE ROPE as a gift. I thoroughly enjoyed it. So another common link between us. Have a great week Alison.

  4. I am so pleased that you have written about Vivian. She is truly fantastic…a rare talent lost but now found. Living in Chicago, I am so so fortunate to have been able to go to the first gallery showing of her work. It’s unbelievable.

    • Oh Ally, I envy you that opportunity! How wonderful. I hope you go more than once since you are right there. How fortunate to have such a local treasure chest of work. So glad you stopped by to share.

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