Today is Vivian Maier's birthday (February 1, 1926 - April 21, 2009). If you are not familiar with Vivian Maier or her work, it may be because she was relatively unknown prior to the acquisition of some of her personal effects in 2007. Little information is known about Miss Maier. Apparently, she was an intensely private person who worked as a nanny for some 40 years, beginning in the mid-1950's. During this time she was known to walk around with a Rolleiflex camera strapped around her neck, snapping images on rolls and rolls of film. Unfortunately, Vivian Maier did not experience the appreciation of her work during her lifetime. In fact, among the bevy of her personal effects were copious rolls of exposed, undeveloped film. Yep. The undeveloped film means that she never saw much of her own work. Clearly, showing her work was not why she did the work. So, what drove her to continue taking those photographs?
Since the discovery of the body of work amassed by Vivian Maier, her work has been exhibited posthumously and her life is the subject of books and documentary films. But, those stories and their details have been told and you can search them out.
My request for permission to share an image or two went unanswered, so you are going to have to click HERE to take a look if you are interested. However, I would like to consider some other points of view about her work. They are really more questions than answers. Here are a few questions that come to mind:
- Miss Maier is now known for her street photography. It seems she went relatively un-noticed as she recorded everyday life, as well as current events. Maybe her anonymity was due to the Rolleiflex camera which allows the photographer to look down in the camera viewfinder rather than holding the camera up to the eye. I suspect this type camera made street photography a little more spontaneous and less obvious. Or, had she learned a delicate dance of being present without being present - very much like being a nanny who is part of a family's life without really being family. Or, was it just a different time when photography was not so prevalent and things were, perhaps, a little more innocent and trusting?
- She was known to be particularly fond of newspapers. Were her documentary-style photographs a type of self-assignment making her a defacto photojournalist? Or, simply a manifestation of her curiosity?
- She captured her own image, reflection, shadow... in many of the images. Was this too a documentation of her and her life, a happy accident, or was she simply ahead of her time with the selfie revolution?
- From what I have read, it appears as though Maier may have been a self-taught photographer. How did she learn photography? Especially after she stopped developing her film. Without that feedback, how do you know what is "working" and what is not? What area(s) need work? What is working, but could be better?
There are so, so, so many questions her story and work conjure up. Wouldn't it be interesting to view the entire portfolio in toto, in chronological order, so you could see her evolution as an artist? Or, should we respect her privacy? What are your thoughts?