* “Master Profiles” is a series profiling all the great photographers of uncontrolled life. Unlike the rest of the blog, I’m doing these in a straight profile format to make it easy for quick access to facts, quotes and knowledge on all the masters. I’ll also group them together here every time I add a new one.
Vivian Maier (1926-2009)
Street Photographer known not only for her photos, but also her unique story of being completely unknown until after she passed away.
Born: February 1, 1926 in New York City, NY, USA
Vivian Maier was the daughter of a French mother and Austrian father. She was born in New York City, but also grew up in France. Much of her life remains unknown, but she lived with her mother in Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur, France and then went back and forth to New York City, where her father worked as a steam engineer.
In 1951, at the age of 25, Maier moved from France to New York to work in a sweatshop. In 1956, she moved to the Chicago area’s North Shore to start work as a nanny.
Maier worked for forty years as a nanny, mostly in Chicago, but in her spare time she was an avid photographer. During her lifetime she took more than 150,000 photographs. The bulk of her work was done in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles where she focused on the people and urban scenery.
The families that she nannied for said she was a very private person who spent nearly all her days off walking the streets photographing. During her lifetime, she went completely unknown. None of her work was ever published and was kept mostly to herself, some of which was never even developed during her lifetime.
After nannying, Maier hit hard times financially and was even without a home at points. In November 2008, she fell on the ice, hit her head and never was able to recover. On April 21, 2009, she passed away in a nursing home in Highland Park.
Before she died, Maier had also failed to keep up payments on her storage space she had rented in Chicago’s North Side. Her negatives, prints, and 8mm film were auctioned off in her storage sale and three photo collectors, John Maloof, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow, bought portions of her work.
Maloof bought the largest part of Maier’s work because he was working on a book about the history of the Chicago neighborhood of Portage Park. In October 2009, Maloof linked his blog to a selection of Maier’s photographs on Flickr. From there, the results went “viral” with thousands of people expressing interest and praise.
Since then, Vivian Maier’s work has been turned into multiple books, critical acclaim and even a movie. Her story is like no other and has caught mainstream attention from people who aren’t even into photography. Her work speaks for itself and shows that talent is everywhere, even if no one knows about it.
- Everyday life in the streets
- Focus on people
- Selfies before they were cool
- A look at American cities and society in the 20th century
Rolleiflex Medium Format Camera
Vivian Maier’s first camera was a Kodak Brownie box camera, but in 1952 she purchased her first Rolleiflex camera. Over her lifetime, she used a Rolleiflex 3.5T, Rolleiflex 3.5F, Rolleiflex 2.8C, Rolleiflex Automat and others. She later used a Leica IIIc, an Ihagee Exakta, a Zeiss Contarex and various other SLR cameras.
When it comes to film, she shot mostly Kodak Tri-X and Ektachrome film. While most of her black and white work was shot with her Rolleiflex, she did prefer to shoot color on 35mm.
Unfortunately, Vivian Maier doesn’t have any known quotes due to being mostly unknown during her lifetime. So instead of quotes, I will include a link to an article/video from The Art of Photography. It brings up some interesting thoughts on her work and how it has been controlled and released after passing.
Vivian Maier’s life story is so full of fun facts that I’d really recommend watching her documentary, Finding Vivian Maier. In the meantime, here’s a photo of her bathroom/darkroom:
Vivian Maier has one of the most unique and interesting stories you’ll find in the photography world. Tell me what you all think about her story, work and popularity in the comments below! Do you have any favorite shots? Does her work impact you as much as others?