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Vivian Maier – the unknown street photographer

As you grow up you hear stories about many artists, unknown in their life time and dyeing penniless in a garret somewhere – but they all seem to have had some sort of formal training and have spent their life surrounded by people involved in the same life who they used to critique their work and help direct them.

You don’t hear stories of the amateur who spent their life hiding their craft from everyone around them with no formal training and no one to share their efforts with.

That was until 2007 when a box of negatives and undeveloped film was bought at an auction in Chicago, put up for sale as the owner had defaulted on the storage contract.

This was the collected work and bric-a-brac of Vivian Maier’s life that she had carried with her from job to job as she worked as a Nanny in post war America.

Towards the end of her life, Maier may have been homeless for some time. She lived on Social Security and 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.

The collection that is now being uncovered has over 100,000 MF images from a TLR Rolleiflex and over 700 undeveloped rolls of film in B/W and colour. The purchaser of the boxes, John Maloof, and now their curator is both producing a documentary of her work and a book of the early negatives that have been developed and his work can be found on the new Vivian Maier web site .

For someone who shared none of her work with anyone and had no formal training whatsoever to have produced so many images is one thing – but to have produced the quality and breadth of her images shows she must have had an incredible energy and ability to communicate with her subjects as time and time again you see shots of ordinary people who have real empathy with the photographer and her camera.

Neither the documentary nor the book are out yet as we are still in the relative early days of discovery of her work – but you can see her work on many websites and in the near future in print too.

Posted by simon on May 20, 2011

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