Vivian Maier’s Chicago Street Photography

Well in our absence we missed out on quite a few big stories in the photography world, but one of the most amazing was that of the discovery of Chicago nanny Vivian Maier’s amazing collection of street photographs.  While researching a book on the history of Chicago, a real estate agent bought at auction a large quantity of negatives that had been sold off by a storage company for missed payments.  A large proportion of these were undeveloped but those that were he began looking through and scanning and soon realised that he was sat on something quite special.

What he’d inadvertently uncovered was a huge collection of images, the quality of which rivals any street photographer in history.  A very private person herself, Vivian Maier worked as a nanny for various Chicago families but in her spare time walked the streets of the city with her camera.  Although never showing her photographs to anybody else, she shot over 100,000 frames over several decades.  Documenting in mesmerising detail the moments that made up life in Chicago.  From the tender to the tragic, every one of her subjects comes completely alive through her work.

What makes her work the more amazing is that the more you see, the more impressed you are with it.  Image after image, her eye never falters.  Every one is a masterpiece of aesthetic: she captures not only the perfect moment but in perfect form; every subject is so beautifully positioned within the image, every exposure so deep in tonality, so deep in meaning.

While she may yet become recognised as one of the most important photographers in US history, it’s rather sad it seems that Vivian herself lived the last years of her life in poverty.  Tragically she died in 2009 having never recovered from a fall the previous year.  What she would have made of her collections being made public this way is debatable but it’s unfortunate that she couldn’t have the final say herself.  Now that it is well established in the public domain though it is a rich seam of inspiration for any photographer.

Self-portrait, Vivian Maier

A book and film are coming soon.  John Maloof’s blog is here and contains further information and pictures from this astounding woman.

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