Vivian Maier (in color)
Best of friends
A child's sadness
The Vivian Maier enigma
It is the extraordinary story of an unknown brilliant artist and her work. Vivian Dorothea Maier worked for approximately forty years as a nanny in New York and Chicago. That is no «brilliant artist» shall you say, but Vivian was a self-taught photographer who took, in her spare time, between 1950 and 1980, hundred of thousands of photographs. These pictures, taken in the streets, testify of a definite mastery of the medium on her part. Vivian died in 2009. She was 83 years old.
Vivian Maier was born in New York on February 1st, 1926, in the Bronx borough of New York City, to a French mother and Austrian father. The Maier couple separated in 1929. Her brother Charles-William was entrusted to his paternal grandparents while Vivian staid with her mother who fonds refuge with a friend living in the Bronx. The friend, Jeanne Bertrand, a recognized professional photographer, introduced Maria and Vivian to her trade. Both women and the girl return to France where Vivian lived from the time she was six until she was twelve.
Back in the United States, at the age of 25, Vivian enters the service of a Southampton family as a governess for children. She will stay with this family until she leaves New York for Chicago in 1956 where she will pursue her job as a nanny. Upon her arrival in Chicago, Vivian was hired to take care of three boys: John, Lane and Matthew, sons of Nancy and Avron Gensburg.
As often as she can, equipped with her Rolleiflex, an excellent professional camera, Vivian goes out to photograph everyday life in the street. While in the service of the Gensburg family, who agreed to provide for her temporary replacement, Vivian traveled around the world in 1959-1960.
From the time her mother died in 1975, Vivian lived alone. She is 49 years old.
At the end of 1990, we find Vivian in serious financial difficulties. The brother Gensburg fonds her in a small apartment with not much to live on. They settled her in an pleasant apartment in Rogers Park and took care of her. In December, 2008, Vivian slided on the ice and injured her head. She was immediately taken to hospital. In spite of all the care provided by the Gensberg brothers, Vivian Maier died on April 20th, 2009.
Two years before her death, unknown to the Gensburg brothers, all of Vivians’ equipments : cameras, negatives, undeveloped rolls of film were put on the auction block for non payment of storage rent.
The fortuitous discovery of a curious young man
That is when a young real estate agent, John Maloof, looking for some documentation on old Chicago, finds the unidentified photographic collection. In the lot he byes, he finds no photos of Old Chicago. Disappointed, he stores the boxes in his attic for more than six months before realizing that these images, mainly in black and white, are beautiful, moving and magnificent and they deserves to be inventoried.
Maloof knows nothing about photography, but he soon realizes that what he has in his possession is an exceptional collection of photos. He gets in touch with the auction house to find the buyers of other lots with the same provenance which were acquires at the auction. He will buy all can find and will end up in possession of more than 100 000 negatives.
Maloof then searched for the author, but all his investigation will learn him is that all the boxes that were sold belonged to an old and sick lady whose name was unknown.
In April, 2009, Maloof discovers in one of the boxes an envelope of a laboratory of photo bearing Vivian Maier's name written in the pencil. He Googles the name and this is when he learns, by a death notice which appeared a few days earlier in The Chicago Tribune, that Vivian died a few weeks before. The brother Gensburg, who Vivian Maier cared for from 1956 till 1972 and who took care of her in the last years of her life, published the obituary note
During her life, Vivian Maier took more than 120 000 photos of street life which she never saw for a good part partly because she had neither the possibility nor the financial means to have the negatives developed. She showed her work to no one. She talk of her photos to no one. She never got to benefit from her work.
Since his extraordinary discovery in 2007, John Maloof dedicated himself to protect Vivian Maier's work. He classified her photographic and audio documents. He digitalized some 150 movies that she shot. He scanned or developed the negatives of her photos. Having retrace and interviewed more than sixty people who had known Vivian Maier, Maloof succeeded in reconstituting her life in the United States and defining her personality. He created a web site and a Facebook page dedicated to this grand photographer.
Vivian Maier’s Photos