Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Finding Vivian Maier

White wall with gray words Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer
Roloflex vertical cameraI admit I envy John Maloof, who discovered the work and negatives of Vivian Maier, because he has found his purpose. Over the coming years, more and more of her work will become available through Maloof's exploration of the archive. I wonder if it is almost too intense for him to bear.

The first U.S. exhibition of Maier's photos was recently completed at the Chicago Cultural Center, and I squeaked in just before it closed.

As a show, it was very understated, which seems appropriate. Two rooms, a single row of photos on six walls, a case in the center of each room holding a few objects from Maier's life.

White walls and square photos evenly spaced along, two bald men looking at them
The wall to the left holds six self-portraits.

Wall of five square photos
The two at left play with Maier's shadow, including the outline of her hat, which has become part of her signature.

Raised glass case with four women's hats in it, one is bright green, the others dull colors
Some of the hats occupied one of the cases. The whole exhibit had such a feeling of grayscale or generally muted tones that the green hat was surprising and interruptive to me.

Photo of a shiny half-spherical sprinkler in grass, woman with camera reflected in it
This is a closeup of one of the self portraits, with Maier reflected in a sprinkler head.

Young women with tousled dark hair photographing herself in a round mirror, set on the ground as if it were a hole in the ground
This one is from her younger, hatless years.

A couple of favorites from the show:

Photo of a man and woman wearing bermuda shorts, knobby leg with socks
There are a lot of legs in Maier's work, but these two pairs are particularly evocative.

Young boy in coonskin cap, squatting beside a car, digging in the dirt, looking up at the photographer almost angrily
This is my favorite of all, through some combination of the boy's challenging expression, the glasses that mark him as a misfit, the fact that he's playing in the dirt with a stick, and, of course, his hat. It was shot while Maier was on a trip to Canada.

Multi-colored film canisters casually arrayed in a case
The other case held a few of her cameras and these rolls of film. I'm not sure if these are some of the undeveloped ones or not.

All and all, a tantalizing glimpse of Vivian Maier's huge body of work.


Amber said...

My heart hurts. The glasses don't mark him as a misfit. I have to admit, I hate that people see glasses that way! My daughter wears bifocals. She is 7. She has this fluffy hat with bear ears and pom poms hanging down that she wears. I want to get a print of the boy and a print of my daughter (whose expression is often challenging and spirited) and put them side by side. I see a strong, independent spirit in that photo (also my favorite of the batch of hers that I've seen). A true original. Not a misfit.

Daughter Number Three said...

Hi, Amber. I wear glasses, too, though not from quite as young an age as your daughter (10 in my case). I guess I was thinking of the usual stereotype of glasses on kids in the media, though who knows if Vivian was thinking the same thing. I think in the case of this photo, I was struck by the particular type of frames the child has for his glasses, but maybe that's just an association for me.

Vivian is clearly a misfit herself, and would (I think) believe that misfits are where creativity comes from. So I proudly hold up the misfit label.