VIVIAN DOROTHEA MAIER was an American street photographer. She worked as a nanny for the majority of her life while being a prolific photographer in her spare time taking over 150,000 photos. Her work remained unknown and only gained popularity and recognition after her death.
Maier was born in the Bronx New York in 1926. When her parents separated when she was a child she moved to live with a friend of her mother’s who was a professional photographer. In the thirties the two women and the little Vivian moved to France, the country where her mother was born and where Vivian spent her childhood until the age of twelve. In 1938 they came back to New York.
Maier was a very personal person but also somewhat of a free spirit who loved to travel the world from corner to corner from corner to corner, from Canada to South America, from Europe to Asia. She was a solitary, independent and reclusive woman with a French accent and a stately aspect, with sophisticated liking, whose learning was always hidden well behind the camera and under her nanny’s identity.
“She has been called a real life Mary Poppins but with a camera”
It was in 2007 two years before Maier died that a Chicago collector John Maloof first acquired some of her work after negatives, prints, audio recordings and 8 mm film of Maier’s were auctioned off to pay off outstanding debts. Less than six months after her death Maloof posting of some of Maier’s photographs in 2009 on Flickr created a massive spark and surge of interest in her work. Maier’s photographs have received international attention in mainstream media and her work has appeared in gallery exhibitions, several books, and two documentary films.
Maier’s genius was in her ability to identify subjects, suggestive corners of the street, meaningful expressions of unaware people, talking moments.
She knew how to read between the lines of the years of great photojournalism, her photographs showed technical competence and talent, she used color for photography and continued to keep informed herself through courses and conferences.
But with no one said to have really known here during her life, who was this tireless street photographer? Why did she hide her passion, why did she love to portray children and poor people?
Passionate for real life, like someone who discovers it for the first time, she took from the street and from wayfarers the sense of her inspiration.
The discovery by Maloof preserved the narration of a flight that crossed the world, never enough satisfying, in a continuous search for appropriation through images.
Thousands of shots, unprinted negatives, undeveloped rolls, accumulated in dozens of shoe boxes. The presence of several self-portraits stand out, a huge legacy for the later multitude of spectators with whom she has never talked too.
Her austere look, reflected in the windows, in the puddles, her long shadow as subject of photography acted as a mediator in order to approach this imposing yet discreet woman.
A photograph is a kind of journey into the life of an artist, it is a little story told with the eyes: Vivian Maier’s pictures contain all the charm of her as artist, a photographer, a woman passionate about life, able to freeze single moment just in one shot. With the same strong passion Vivian Maier kept hidden away from observers thousands of pictures, nothing to show to anyone, as Vivian was able to obscure everything about her “second life”. She preserved her works as the most precious asset.
An exhibition on Vivian Maier is on now in Catania at the Puglisi Cosentino Foundation until 18 February 2018. The exhibition includes 120 black and white photographs, images from the fifties and sixties, some super 8mm.