Thursday, May 1, 2014

Vivian Maier: Attention Must Not Be Paid

The film, Finding Vivian Maier, is playing locally, and I hear it's available on demand, too. I saw it a few weeks ago and was once again amazed by Maier's photos. The story of her life, as much as it's known, is revealed throughout by the film maker, John Maloof, who is the person who found Maier's negatives in a storage locker auction.

He interviewed people she worked for, kids she took care of, and shop owners whose businesses she frequented. He talks to two well-known living photographers about her work. He tracks down her mother's small French village of origin. And he shows her stuff -- not just the photos, but the detritus she hoarded until her death in 2009.

Maloof was recently interviewed by Jim Walsh at MinnPost. This is one quote that I found particularly resonant:
“That’s one of the things that really compels me to know more and also to have so much respect for [Maier], because she did this for herself,” said Maloof. “She’s a true artist. She wasn’t doing this to submit to LIFE magazine or to show off to other photographers or galleries that she’s better than someone else, or just as good as someone else. She didn’t do that. She didn’t need that. She knew that her photos were good, and she kept going, and it’s all that she knew and that’s all that she did and it’s all she needed.

“Most people I think really want to be that person that doesn’t need somebody to validate them. If you look at Twitter or Facebook, all it is is people showing off what they’re doing, or trying to get somebody to favorite or tout or get somebody to pay attention to them. She didn’t need any of that to be happy, and I think a lot of people really wish they could be like that and still be happy — but it’s not the case, especially in this social media era.”
From what little I know about folk artists, that's one of the things that separates them from mainstream artists. Not only are they untaught, they are outside the art world altogether, and they make their art for themselves or some other personal reason, not to speak to an art audience.

Walsh's post is titled The 'Punk Rock Nanny,' and I suppose that's appropriate.


My past posts on Vivian Maier and her work.


Update: Here's a Chicago Reader story about Maier that just appeared. It addresses the way her work has been controlled by several collectors, including Maloof, and whether she went out of her way to keep her work private or not. Also that she had a large collection of photography books that are never discussed (since they were sold separately in the auction).
...Pamela Bannos, a photographer and senior lecturer at Northwestern who specializes in historical projects... [s]ays the nanny narrative, honed by men who control Maier's legacy and "like a good story," gives the photographer "short shrift."

In an interview last week, Bannos—who's had full access to Goldstein's and Slattery's collections but none to Maloof's (in spite of two years of requests, she says)—told me she doesn't think Maier is such a big mystery. She points out, for example, that Maier was the third generation of her family to support herself as a live-in domestic worker, so there's nothing very surprising about her choice of occupation....

"She was also a voracious reader," with a very large collection of photography books, Bannos notes. (Slattery, who still owns most of what he bought at the 2007 auction, says hundreds of them were sold then.) As for the idea that Maier didn't want her photos printed, or that she was making them only for herself, "there are what I call the lost portfolios," Bannos says—"presentation portfolios," at least four of them, containing a total of about 150 11-by-14-inch prints, sold at the auction, resold, and not tracked down since. "What we've seen so far is just a piece of the story."
I wonder what prints were in those portfolios? They would be incredibly valuable to understanding Maier because they reveal her vision as an editor of her own work.

Putting some prints into presentation portfolios doesn't mean she intended to show them to anyone, though. But it -- like Bannos's other comments -- highlights how much more there is to know about Maier's work and life.

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