A Quiet Pursuit...
For the past few months, I have been following the work of a previously unknown photographer, Vivian Maier. The story of the discovery and subsequent promotion of her work by dogged chronicler and historian John Maloof is portrayed brilliantly in a recent documentary, Finding Vivian Maier. It is the story of a woman, ostensibly “only” a nanny, who used her time off duty to create over 100,000 photographic images, primarily from the 1950s to 1970s, which remained unseen during her lifetime.
Since their random discovery by Maloof at an auction in Chicago in 2007, her images have been featured in gallery exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, London, Germany, and Denmark. Some of the openings are cited by the gallery owners as the best ever attended in the gallery’s history.
Cover from the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier”
Why does this work fascinate us so much? Partially, it’s the sheer artistic quality of the Maier’s images. Maier always had her trusty, high-quality Rolleiflex twin-lens camera hung around her neck, as interviewees in the film attest, and snapped away continually.
The images capture cameo moments in the blur of passing time, exhibiting an impressive depth of field as well as Maier’s dexterity in capturing light. These cameos might not be appreciated at the moment they are happening, but when examined later in a print, they reveal a gritty beauty.
It’s a testament to Maier’s own belief in her work that the negatives even survive. Maier must have known she had captured something wonderful in her work, taking care to move her scores of suitcases and boxes of negatives and undeveloped film with her from one nannying job to the next. They are like photographic poetry of their time, a nonjudgmental eye viewing the human drama.
Viewing Maier’s work compels us to look again at the passing moments of our own lives. Vision refreshed, we can see in those moments an aching beauty and truth, sometimes for the first time.