A riddle, shrouded in a mystery, inside an enigma.
In reconstructing the life of Vivian Maier, one can easily recall Churchill's famous quote about the vast land of tsars and commissioners to the east. A person who fits European stereotypes of an independent and liberated woman, with her accent, but who was born in New York. Someone intensely reserved and private, Vivian could be counted on to passionately preach her own very liberal view of the world to whoever wanted to listen to her, or not. Decidedly not materialistic, Vivian has come to amass a group of storage lockers filled to the brim with found objects, art books, newspaper clippings, amateur films, as well as political knick-knacks and knick-knacks. The story of this nanny who today amazed the whole world with her photographs and who, moreover, recorded some of the most interesting wonders and peculiarities of urban America in the second half of the 20th century, seems to exceed understanding.
American of French and Austro-Hungarian origin, Vivian lived between Europe and the United States before returning to New York in 1951. Having started photography two years earlier, she traveled the streets of the Big Apple to refine his art. In 1956, Vivian moved from the East Coast to Chicago, where she spent most of the rest of her life working as a caregiver. In her spare time, Vivian took pictures that she zealously hid from the eyes of others. Taking snapshots until the late 1990s ′, Maier left behind a body of work comprising over 100,000 negatives. In addition, Vivian's passion for documentation has extended to a series of homemade documentaries and audio recordings. Vivian Maier has meticulously cataloged interesting elements of America, the demolition of historic monuments for the benefit of new developments, the unseen lives of various groups of people and the destitute, as well as some of Chicago's most treasured sites.
A free spirit but also a proud soul, Vivian became poor and was eventually saved by three of the children she had looked after earlier in her life. Remembering Maier fondly as a second mother, they contributed to pay for her an apartment and took the best care of her. Unbeknownst to them, one of Vivian's warehouses was auctioned off for bad debts. It was in these cupboards that the enormous quantity of negatives that Maier had secretly hidden throughout his life was to be found.
All of Vivian Maier's work was discovered in 2007 at a second-hand auction in Chicago's Northwestern neighborhood. From there, these works made an impact around the world and changed the life of the man who defended and revealed them to the public, John Maloof.
Currently, all of Vivian Maier's work is archived and cataloged for the enjoyment of others and for future generations. John Maloof is at the heart of this project after having reconstructed most of the archives, which had previously been dispersed among the various buyers present at this auction. Today, with around 90% of its archives restored, Vivian's work is part of a renaissance of interest in the art of street photography.
"Well, I guess nothing's supposed to last forever. We have to make room for other people. It's a wheel. You get on it, you have to go all the way. And then someone has the same opportunity to go to the end and so on. " - Vivian Maier
Vivian Maier (February 1, 1926 - April 21, 2009) is an American street photographer born in New York. Although born in the United States, it was in France that Maier spent most of her youth. She returned to the United States in 1951 where she worked as a nanny and caregiver until the end of her life. In her spare time, she began to venture into the art of photography. Consistently taking photos over the course of five decades, she has left over 100,000 negatives, most of them taken in Chicago and New York. Vivian would then indulge her passionate dedication to documenting the world around her through films, recordings, and home-made collections, providing one of the most fascinating windows into American life in the second half of the World. Twentieth century.
Maier was born to a French mother and an Austrian father in the Bronx neighborhood of New York. Census records, while useful, give us an incomplete picture. We find Vivian at the age of four living in New York City with only her mother and Jeanne Bertrand, an award-winning portrait photographer, her father already no longer in the game. Later, archives show that Vivian returned from France to the United States in 1939 with her mother, Marie Maier. In 1951, we again have traces of his return from France, but this time without his mother.
Vivian Maier's Kodak Brownie
In 1949, while still in France, Vivian started taking her first photos. His camera was a modest Kodak Brownie body, an amateur camera with a single shutter speed, no focus control, and no aperture dial. The viewing screen is tiny, and for the controlled landscape painter or portrait painter, it would undoubtedly impose a wedge between Vivian and her intentions due to its imprecision. His intentions were at the mercy of this weak machine. In 1951, Maier returned to New York on the ship "De-Grass" and moved to a Southampton family as a nanny.
In 1952, Vivian bought a Rolleiflex camera to satisfy her fixation. She remained with this family for most of her stay in New York until 1956, when she moved permanently to the northern suburbs of Chicago. Another family employs Vivian as a nanny for their three boys and will become their closest family for the rest of their life.
The following years
In 1956, when Maier moved to Chicago, she enjoyed the luxury of a darkroom and a private bathroom. It can thus develop its prints and its own rolls of B&W film. When the children became adults, the end of Maier's employment with this early Chicago family in the early 1970s forced her to give up developing her own films. As she moved from family to family, her undeveloped, unprinted film rolls began to pile up.
Left: Vivian Maier's bathroom served as a darkroom. Right: Some of Vivian Maier's cameras.
It was around this time that Maier decided to switch to color photography, mainly using Kodak Ektachrome 35mm film, a Leica IIIc and various German SLR cameras. The color work has a touch that was not visible in Maier's work before this, and it has become more abstract over time. People slowly disappear from his photos to be replaced by found objects, newspapers and graffiti.
Likewise, her work shows a compulsion to save the objects she finds in the trash cans or on the curb. In the 1980s, Vivian faced another challenge in her work. Financial stress and lack of stability once again put his work on hold and the rolls of Color Ektachrome began to pile up. Between the late 1990s and the early years of the new millennium, Vivian put down her camera and stored her belongings in an attempt to stay afloat. She went from homelessness to a small studio that a family she worked for helped pay for. With meager means, the stored photographs became lost memorabilia until they were sold for non-payment of rent in 2007. The negatives were auctioned off by the storage company to RPN Sales, who sold the boxes in a much larger auction to multiple buyers, including John Maloof.
Above: A color photograph of Vivian Maier from 1973
Below: Maier's undeveloped film
In 2008, Vivian fell on a patch of ice and hit her head in downtown Chicago. Although she is expected to make a full recovery, her health began to deteriorate, forcing her to enter a nursing home. She died shortly after, in April 2009, leaving behind huge archives.
Often described as "Mary-Poppin's," Vivian Maier had eccentricity on her side as a nanny to three boys she raised as a mother. Beginning in 1956, while working for a family in an upscale Chicago suburb on the shores of Lake Michigan, Vivian had a taste of motherhood. She would take the boys to the strawberry fields to pick berries. She found a dead snake on the sidewalk and brought it home to show off to the boys or had games with all the kids in the neighborhood. Vivian was a free spirit and followed her curiosities wherever they took her.
Having told others that she learned English in theaters and plays, Vivian's "theater of life" was playing out before her eyes so her camera could capture it in the most epic moments. Vivian had an interesting story. Her family were completely sidelined very early in her life, forcing her to become singular, as she will remain so all her life. She never married, had no children, and had no close friends who could tell they knew her personally.
Maier's photos also betray an affinity with the poor, no doubt due to the emotional kinship she felt with those who struggled to get by. Her thirst for culture led her to travel the world. We know that she visited Canada in 1951 and 1955, in 1957 in South America, in 1959 in Europe, the Middle East and in Asia, in 1960 in Florida, in 1965 in the Caribbean, and so on. following. It should be noted that she traveled alone and gravitated around the less fortunate in society.
Vivian Maier's travel itinerary from 1957
Her travels in search of the exotic have led her to seek the unusual in her own backyard as well. Whether it is the little-known sadness of the Yugoslav emigrants burying their tsar, the last tour of the legendary stockyards, the screening of a Polish film at the Cinema Polski at the Milford Theater, or the Chicagoans welcoming the crew of the Apollo, she was an impresario documenting what caught her eye, in photos, movies and sounds.
The testimonials of people who knew Vivian are all very similar. She was eccentric, strong, had strong opinions, was highly intellectual, and had an intense private life. She wore a soft hat, a long dress, a woolen coat, men's shoes, and walked with a powerful step. With a camera around her neck as soon as she left the house, she obsessively took pictures, but never showed them to anyone. An original that is not cold in the eyes.
All the images you will find on this site are not from prints made by Maier, but rather from new scans prepared from the negatives of Vivian. This naturally brings us to the question of artistic intention. What would Vivian have printed? How? 'Or' What ? These are valid concerns, and it is for this reason that most attention has been paid to learning the styles that she favors in her work. It took meticulous study of the prints that Maier herself had printed, as well as the plethora of notes given to labs with instructions on how to print and crop, paper type, paper finish, etc.
Some of Maier's printing instructions
Whenever her work has been exhibited, such as the exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center, this information has been taken into account to interpret her work as closely as possible to its original process.
Jeanne Bertrand in a 1902 Boston Globe article
Jeanne Bertrand was an important figure in Vivian's life. Census records designate her as the head of the family, living with Vivian and her mother in 1930. Jeanne's upbringing was similar to that of Vivian: she grew up in poverty, lost her father when she was young and worked in a needle factory in conditions similar to those of a sweatshop. However, in 1905, we can read in the Boston Globe that Jeanne Bertrand is presented as one of the most eminent photographers of Connecticut. What makes this information even more surprising is that Jeanne Bertrand had only started photography four years ago. But, even though Bertrand was an early influence, it should also be noted that Bertrand was a portrait photographer. Vivian first took a camera in the French Alps around 1949. The photographs she took were portraits and controlled landscapes. Chances are, Vivian was trained by Jeanne Bertrand.
In 1951, Vivian arrived in New York and continued to use the same techniques she practiced in France with the same Kodak Brownie camera in 6 × 9 format. But in 1952, Vivian's work changed dramatically. She begins to photograph with a square format. She buys an expensive Rolleiflex device - a big step up from the hobbyist device she used to start with. His eye has changed. She captures the spontaneity of street scenes with a precision reminiscent of Henri-Cartier-Bresson, street portraits that evoke Lisette Model and fantastic compositions similar to those of Andre Kertesz. 1952 is the year that Vivian's classic style begins to take shape.