I had the pleasure of watching an extraordinary documentary about Vivian Maier recently. She was an amateur photographer who specialised in ‘street’ portraits and scenes, all done whilst working as a nanny in New York.
During her lifetime (1926 – 2009), Vivian did not show her photographs to anyone, nor did she seek the approval of anyone or their critique of her work. For her, it seemed that photography was not – as it normally is – about the sharing, but was a purely personal adventure. Often, particularly latterly, she did not process the films; this led to a comment that for so many of her images, Vivian was the only person ever to have seen them – and then, only in her viewfinder.
Shortly prior to her death, a number of storage lockers containing her images – some prints, but mainly rolls of film and negatives – were sold to pay the cost of the storage; this eventually led to the discovery of her work, with critical acclaim following fast. Now, it seems, her place in the history of photography is assured – not simply because of the story of the discovery of her work, but primarily because of the exceptional quality of her images.
“That rare case of a genuine undiscovered artist, she left behind a huge trove of pictures that rank her with the great American mid-century street photographers. The best pictures bring to life a fantastic swath of history that now needs to be rewritten to include her.” – Michael Mimmelman, New York Times