Vivian Maier’s hidden world of intimate, visual storytelling

I just learned about Vivian Maier, an amazing street photographer and student of the human condition, in all its rich, strange, sometimes unfair and cruel glory. She was born in 1926 and died in 2009 and spent much of her life in New York and Chicago, where she did her voluminous work. More than 100,000 of her negatives and undeveloped rolls of film and 8mm and 16mm film were discovered posthumously. Suddenly an unknown photographic storyteller burst on the scene in the last five years through the power of social media and more importantly because of the volume and quality of her highly personal work.

Her self-portraits, including the use of a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera, are wildly off-kilter. In the era of the self-absorbed, narcissistic cell-phone selfie, these make that practice seem like a pale shadow. As for her portraits of ordinary people she met, you cannot take photos like this without deep empathy and respect–something that is not common. It links her to photographers like Sebastião Salgado.

Look at the cameras she used; some appear to be Leicas. She also used one of my favorite twin-lens reflex cameras, the gorgeous Rolleiflex. When she snapped her street and people pictures, she was right in her subjects’ private, most intimate space. There is now a documentary film that came out in 2013 called Finding Vivian Maier, and it is gaining buzz too. Oh, she made “a living” as a nanny, if that matters. It makes one wonder about who is an “artist” and what hidden potential people who may be dismissed can possess. Catch a glimpse of the film via the trailer on Youtube below.


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