Contemplating Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier was an enigmatic nanny and an extremely prolific street photographer who passed away in 2009.  She’s the subject of the film Finding Vivian Maier.  Lynn, Mary and I saw it when it played recently in Orlando.  I enjoyed the movie and  recommend it to anyone, especially if you’re interested in photography.

If you haven’t followed her story, you can easily catch up by googling her name or clicking on her website (first link above).  It’s worth your time.

What I find fascinating is that while she made over 100,000 photographs, she was completely unknown before they were discovered in an abandoned storage locker in 2007.  And her photos are very good.  She captured street scenes in Chicago and other places that show us what life was like.  She was obviously passionate about photography.  But –  she apparently had no interest in sharing her work.  There were even 2000 rolls of film that she never developed.

Brooks Jenson (publisher of Lenswork Magazine) has a podcast that I listen to.  In one of them, he talks about why we photographers are so passionate about what we do.  For him, photography is a way to explore life.  I like that idea.  It seems Vivian Maier was exploring life around her with her photography too.  He goes on to say that there are two sides to photography:  The observation / capture side, and the publication / sharing side.  Brooks says you can’t have one without the other.  I think that’s right for most people.  They want to share something they’ve seen with others.  Something that they see differently or that others may pass by.

Street photography isn’t my forte, but I suppose we need at least one photo for this post. Vivian Maier would sometimes include herself in her photos.  So here’s my attempt.

Waiting at the corner of Venice and NokomisWaiting at the corner of Venice and Nokomis – I was playing with my camera while the ladies shopped.  Vivian Meir’s version of this would be in Black and White, and probably use a vertical 4×5 format.  It also might include a reflection of her, not me.

I find Vivian Maier’s story compelling.  She did the observation / capture side of photography without the publication / sharing side.  Until recently her photography was incomplete since no one had seen it.  After she’s gone, her work is finally being shared and we’re seeing some of what she observed.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos – and share them!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

8 thoughts on “Contemplating Vivian Maier

  1. When I was getting into photography my wife asked me what I was going to do with all of those pictures. It really a fundamental question in photography.

    1. It is a fundamental question, and I’ve gotten similar questions from my wife. I do enjoy sharing my photos and it’s hard to imagine someone not doing so.

  2. I spent this dreadful rainy afternoon going through the photos of Vivian Maier, I really enjoyed it and these moments turned out to be a happy encounter. Thanks Ed !

    Suzanne Lanthier
    Montreal area

  3. Thanks Ed for this post. Very interesting. I had seen the story briefly on the news…Looking forward to seeing this documentary. Jean, Fort Lauderdale

    1. You’re welcome, Jean. I think you can watch the movie online now. I especially enjoyed the first half. The movie tries to be as complete as possible and the last part gets into aspects of the nanny part of her life that I didn’t enjoy as much.

  4. Interesting , Ed! I wonder if there are two aspects to this, which can be separate or can be merged. There’s use of a camera to explore life for personal interest: macro as microscope, telephoto for distant, freeze frame to analyse action, etc. Then there’s photography as a practised art form, demonstrating an accomplishment that’s designed to communicate to an audience: to express an aesthetic truth, share awe of a natural phenomenon, provoke thought, whatever. Perhaps VM just had the former?

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