Sunday, January 2, 2011

Vivian Maier Exhibit in Chicago

Self-portrait of Vivian MaierA photographer friend just pointed me to the work of Vivian Maier, a Chicago nanny who was also a street photographer from the 1950s until the '90s. It appears she shot just for herself -- no one knew of her work, and her negatives, numbering over 100,000, were auctioned off in boxes after her death. (There were also 20,000-30,000 rolls of undeveloped film and thousands of prints.)

A young Chicago real estate guy named John Maloof bought one of the boxes at a storage locker auction, then searched out most of the boxes that had been bought by other people. He and a friend have been scanning the negatives and posting many to a blog he set up. This news story from a Chicago television station gives a good idea of how it happened; a documentary is also in the making.

One of the things that first struck me about Maier's work was its range.

Geometric photo of dark stairs against light wall
There are compositions that are formally beautiful...

1950s photo of woman in scarf holding a crying preschooler
...and humanly scaled.

Photo of elderly black woman with beautiful hat hunched on a park bench
Many provide glimpses of the past.

There is a strain of humor, too:

Child in bathing suit standing between adult woman's somewhat lumpy legs, grasping thighs

60s photo of a young man mounting a bike with an extra wheel in his hand, young child sitting in seat on back

Photo of back of a park bench, showing a fat man sitting on it with his backside sticking out between the slats

Maier mostly shot in black and white, but some of her work was in color. This is one of my favorite images:

Young woman in dark red dress with white dots, shot from the back, no head shown, her hands clasped and her fingers making a sign of some sort
The first U.S. exhibit of a small part of Maier's work just opened at the Chicago Cultural Center; it runs through April 1. I hope to get down there to see it early this spring.

Maloof is raising money for his Vivian Maier documentary on Kickstarter, and to support the development of the film and scanning of the negatives.

Reflected window photo where Maier is seen in the glass with her camera, two a man and woman, seated, appear to be inside the lower part of her coat

Jason Kottke wrote about Maier back in 2009, but I wasn't paying attention. Another Maier enthusiast, Jeff Goldstein, has acquired Maier's pre-1950s work, which was shot in Europe.


1 comment:

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Oh, very nice. I love these strong b-w compositions.