Last July, I posted about the discovery of an unknown photographer, Vivian Maier, and the website that now posthumously displays her work. Maier was a nanny and amateur street photographer, who chronicled New York City and Chicago in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Maier died in a nursing home in 2009, on the verge, as it were, of being d”discovered.” John Maloof bought a box of her negatives at a Chicago auction in 2007 for about $400. A Google search revealed nothing about Maier. But never-the-less he was drawn to the images. In 2009 he scanned some of the images and put them up on Flickr. He had about 30 to 40,000 of her negatives. Many of these were marvelously and cleverly constructed selfies in a mirror. Mr Maloof established a website of her work. Now there is a just released documentary entitled “Finding Vivian Maier,” and we will be able to explore further the meaning of her work.
Ms. Maier had a wonderful vision and talent. But she did not pursue photography as a profession, only as a pastime or, better said, as an artistic expression and outlet. In a poignant way her story is the story of many of the readers of this blog and many of the members of social media photography SIGs. You just have to look and you find some very serious talent out there. It is truly an expression of the democracy that modern photography represents – and also of the freedom that digital photography offers in enabling production of a quality image so easily. I have found that everyone has their own special and unique photographic vision. It is like a fingerprint or even DNA.
Where does true artistic vision lie? In Ms. Maier’s case you see something else that we have spoken of so often, and this is the way that photography transcends time and takes you back to now long lost places and days. As someone who grew up in New York City in the 50’s and 60’s, I can relate ever so personally to Ms. Maier’s images – and I love them for it. The people are there, captured in silver and electron states. But they are merely specters. The actual subjects have moved on inexorably through time. And in saving Vivian Maier’s life’s work, John Maloof has truly given us a great gift. It is the gift of vision.