Vivian Maier American, 1926-2009


Vivian Maier tirelessly photographed the streets of Chicago and New York, but her talent remained anonymous throughout her life. A working nanny, she took advantage of every free moment to roam the streets, her Rolleiflex around her neck, taking a sharp look at the human in the city and leaving striking self-portraits. She never showed her photos to anyone and her recent discovery, a true American romance, reveals one of the most brilliant photographers of street photography.
In 2007, John Maloof discovered a lot in a Chicago auction house containing thousands of negatives, as well as undeveloped film and a few prints. His research led him to discover that this lot was only part of a corpus that he gathered by buying back the numerous boxes of negatives, films and documents. His internet searches were unsuccessful until 2009, when an obituary was published in the Chicago Tribune, indicating that Vivian Maier had died a few days earlier, at the age of 83.
Vivian Maier was born in 1926 in the Bronx to an Austro-Hungarian father and a French mother. She spent her childhood with her mother, between France and the United States. It seems that a friend of her mother, Jeanne Bertrand, a portrait photographer, introduced her to photography. Vivian Maier took her first pictures in France around 1949 with a Kodak Brownie, a simple camera intended for the amateur.
She returned to the United States in 1951. She became a nanny and worked for a family in Southampton, a suburb of New York. In 1952 she bought a Rolleiflex, a medium format camera commonly used by photographers of the time. Photography became an increasingly important part of her life. Leaving New York for Chicago in 1956, she joined the Gensburg family. There she raised their three children and used her bathroom to develop her films. This was the beginning of the most prolific period of Maier's work.
When she left the Gensburgs seventeen years later, Maier was no longer able to develop her films herself. Working from family to family, she took with her more and more undeveloped film and unprinted photographs. She photographed until the late 1990s, experimenting with color. These films will also remain undeveloped, as her financial troubles become significant. She then stored her negatives, films and documents in a warehouse. In the early 2000's, the Gensburg children took her in and housed her in a small studio. Her belongings were forgotten until 2007, when they were auctioned off for unpaid bills without her knowledge. Vivian Maier died in 2009 following a fall.
Part of her work was catalogued by John Maloof, who meticulously reconstructed a vast corpus of 143,000 negatives, plus film and audio documents. Her photographs are exhibited in many countries. The book Vivian Maier: Street Photographer was published in 2011, followed in 2013 by Vivian Maier: Self-portraits, and then Vivian Maier: The Color Work in 2018. The film "Finding Vivian Maier," directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar in 2015. 

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