Vivian Maier, Chicago’s street photographer

At a recent antique and furniture auction in Chicago which included *stuff* from storage lockers with delinquent payments, John Maloof paid $300 for about 30,000 negatives stored in sleeves with the date and location penciled in French, but by an unknown photographer.

Negatives in these times of digital cameras? And all that money for who knows what junk, and by an unknown photographer? I’m sure you thought, “What an idiot to waste his money!”

But after looking at the first sleeve of negatives, John Maloof knew without a doubt, that he had the work of a talented photographer in his hands, and it didn’t take long to learn the photographer was a female, because there were so many self portraits,  but it took some time to discover her name – Vivian Maier – and after many hours of research he still knows very little about her

Genius Mary Poppins-esque Photographer Discovered Post Mortem

John Maloof said:

When I found her name written with pencil on a photo-lab envelope, about a year after I purchased the negatives, I decided to ‘Google’ her, only to find her obituary placed the day before my search. She’d passed away only a couple of days before.

Vivian Maier 1926-2009, worked as a nanny in Chicago in the 1950’s-1960’s and on on Sundays,  her day off, went out into the Chicago streets with her camera. At Central Camera, the plus one-hundred-year-old camera shop in Chicago where Vivian purchased her film,  they commented that she was a “keep your distance from me” type of person.

This YouTube documentary from Chicago Tonight, (a Chicago PBS show), introduces us to both John Maloof and Vivian Maier, and is well worth watching.

John Maloof who has started a blog on Vivian Maier,  now owns about 95% of her photos.

Out of the more than 100,000 negatives I have in the collection, about twenty to thirty thousand were still in rolls, undeveloped from the 1960’s-1970’s.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know how much I love photography, and Vivian Maier’s photos are so hauntingly beautiful, they literally took my breath away.

Here below is a YouTube slide show of her photos, I hope you’ll watch it,  I’m sure you’ll agree with me that Vivian Maier is one of our most talented street photographers, her photos remind me of the work of Helen Levitt, who photographed New York city streets at the same time, and also died in 2009.

Many thanks to J.B for sharing the story with me ♥.


About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
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18 Responses to Vivian Maier, Chicago’s street photographer

  1. Boris says:

    A lovely find – good eye – would love to see more of her work, thanks Rosie. Someday my negs will be unearthed and who knows…?

  2. Wow — what a spectacular story!! I love her work — what a fantastic eye! And it really makes me want to know more about her life. THANKS for sharing !

    • dearrosie says:

      The saddest part of the story for me at least, is the world only discovered Vivian Maier after her death. She left her negatives in her storage locker thinking they were worthless and would just be thrown away.

  3. Josee Scanlan says:

    A wonderful story! Particularly enjoyed the PBS documentary.
    Great jazz accompaniment on the slide show. B & W still rules, n’est ce pas?

  4. Corilee says:

    For a “keep your distance” kind of person, she seemed to really connect with the people that she photographed. Gorgeous photos, thanks for sharing!

    • dearrosie says:

      You know when I saw how close she got to some of her subjects, I wondered whether she’d asked permission before taking the photos, but in the 50’s and 60’s photographers didn’t need to get permission, so I she must’ve just taken her photographs and walked away without a comment.

  5. Sarah says:

    Roseanne- What a lovely blog! Thank you for sharing your link on facebook. This story is so intriguing. I love the mystery that is Miss Maier. Since she went so long without sharing her photography, and was a bit of a recluse without her camera slung around her neck, I wonder if she was just another artist who thought her work wasn’t good enough to share with anyone else? Aside from working well with children, maybe her photography was the only way she was able to feel part of- and reach out to- the “real” world. I have so many friends that are wonderful artists, and think that no one is interested in seeing their work because it’s not “good” enough. Maybe Vivian had this same fear? Or maybe, capturing those around her-throughout the years- was all she needed to bring joy and refelection to herself? Best, Sarah

    • dearrosie says:

      Thanks for your great comment Sarah. Vivian Maier’s story is a great mystery, and I don’t think we’ll ever know any more about her and her photos, unless the children she babysat for come forward and share something…

      • Sarah says:

        In today’s world, where we must get to the bottom of every unknown fact, I like the that Vivian’s life may forever remain a mystery. A true secret; to which only she knows the “full story.” 🙂 Best, Sarah

  6. Elizabeth says:

    What an amazing story! It is incredible what you can tell of a person through the eyes of a camera. Watching the slideshow was truly an emotional and beautiful experience!

    • dearrosie says:

      I’m glad you sat down and watched the slide show. It’s true that we tell so much of ourselves through our photos – I can’t imagine only taking photos of buildings like Julius Shulman

  7. Pingback: Vivian Maier, the unknown street photographer | Wondering Rose

  8. Wow, Rosie, this is an amazing story. Her photographs are wonderful. It’s so sad that she died only a couple of days before this young man found her through her obituary. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Cathy,
      Delighted that I could introduce a photographer like yourself to Vivian Maier. Her photos are exceptional – I’ve seen hundreds of them by now and every one of them took my breath away.

      • Her photos are more than amazing, Rosie. It’s really sad that she never showed them to anyone during her lifetime. Too bad she didn’t get to reap the attention that John Malouf is now getting in her name!

      • dearrosie says:

        After seeing the movie I understand that she was so reclusive she would never have coped with all this publicity, so perhaps its best that John Malouf is the name we’re connecting with the photos.

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