Monday, 1 July 2013

The Curious Case of Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures? Documentary by IMAGINE, narrated by Alan Yentob (who's great.)

'Photographer' Vivian Maiers story has absolutely enthralled me since first discovering it. I refer to her a photographer in inverted comments, as none of her work became accessible/viewable to the public until after her death.

The documentary (linked to) above is essentially trying to uncover her life and her works.

What's unbelievable is the amount of photographs she took on a daily basis. Maier worked as a nanny throughout the 50s and 60s in various parts of America including Chicago. According to some people that 'sort of knew her' she was never without her camera.

The body of her work that was found in storage is incredible. Heaps, and heaps of images: street photography, self-portraits, images about family, relationships and places.

Her self-portraits are chilling, they leave the viewer with the uncertainty that the image may be a truthful portrayal, or a construction of herself. Continuing the mystery that is Maier...

Seeing her work first without knowing her story about two years ago, I couldn't believe I'd never come across it earlier. Her images capture the zeitgeist of the places she travelled, they're iconic yet original, classic but obscure. Maier can be compared to Arbus or Cartier - Bresson, the difference being however, that her photography was private.

It baffles me how a person can create such wonderful images, and so many of them without the inclination to share them, or if not share, at least show them off. Why did she do this? What were her thoughts on photography? Who were her family, her friends? All these questions left unanswered that in the documentary people are so desperate to uncover.

However, an acquaintance in the documentary highlights, anything we now present about Maier is a construction of someone's else's Maier, who they thought she was. In truth, we cannot know, that lack of knowledge will forever leave a sense of mystery around her photography. However, what I feel is absolute is the greatness of her talent and the lost years of appreciation for her practice that is now being made up for. 

Self portrait, September 10th, 1995 New York City


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