Who Is Vivian Maier?

By ChicagoGeek [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I walked through the city, at least my little part of it, to arrive at Magnolia Theater in Dallas to see the new documentary, Finding Vivian Maier. I have been familiar with her for some time. The story came to me by way of my business partner, Melissa Sands who told me about a guy named Ron Slattery who had a bunch of photos from this amazing Chicago photographer.

Ron Slattery is not the person the movie was about. In fact, he is not mentioned. I told his story in a previous post Chicago Collector Recalls First Box of Vivian Maier Photos. I have not spoken with John Maloof. It is however clear that he has done a lot of work bringing the life and work of Maier into the public eye, despite resistance from the museum world.

I know this resistance exists first-hand too. After interviewing Ron Slattery, I was speaking with the curator of photography at a major museum. I mentioned Vivian Maier and asked if they had considered a show. Posthumus work was a problem, and commercializing the work of a dead person seemed to be a problem.

It doesn’t appear Maier made much effort to share her amazing work with the public. And it does seem pretty universal that the quality of her work is appreciated on the street, as well as in academia. The movie compared her to Robert Frank in a square format.

Maloof was the recipient of items from Maier’s storage unit. The movie shows clothing items, correspondence and other personal items, but nothing that fills us in on who her photographic role models are, what inspired her, or how she came to be interested in photography. A camera owned by her mother is the only evidence of inspiration.

Maloof and Slattery have Maier’s negatives. In the movie Maloof shows rolls upon rolls of undeveloped film. In these cases, Maier had not even seen the finished work, let alone been able to choose which should be shown publicly. Perhaps she didn’t have time to get to them, perhaps she didn’t consider them worthy of developing, or perhaps she just enjoyed the act of taking photos more than the idea of sharing them. Anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged knows there are people out there like that.

The fact that she worked as a nanny, an occupation that let her roam the streets and pursue her passion, may support this. The fact that she didn’t seem to have much need for material goods, let alone a permanent residence, may support it too. Why would someone go through the trouble to create something they don’t want to share? Maybe it had to do with mental illness, maybe she just liked creating.

Watch the movie and see if she seems like the kind of person who might think the world worthy of her work.

Who is John Galt?

Photo: Taken at the “Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer” exhibition in Chicago 2011 via Wikimedia Commons

One thought on “Who Is Vivian Maier?

  1. The title of the movie should be Hiding Vivian Maier. Documentary is NOT about fact, but selected opinions. The direction cut the film carefully and did not disclose what kind of art education she had. I am sure that the storage units should have some of her stuff including book reference etc. But the film made her like a child prodigy shooting from nowhere as a nanny.


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