Crowds of people, tall buildings, taxis, the rich and famous, the poor and helpless.
What do these things have in common? Seemingly nothing. However, Vivian Maier thought they were all beautifully unique, strange, abstract, and raw images of life in the city. (Or, rather, cities.) Thus began her hobby, turned lifelong fascination, with street photography.
Street photography is described as “… a type of photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places. Street photographs are mirror images of society, displaying ‘unmanipulated’ scenes, with usually unaware subjects.” But, let’s be real… You can’t really describe the feeling that street photography, or photography in general, gives you. But, through her photos, Vivian Maier is able to convey important messages and a sense of realism to the horror that sometimes infests the streets, or the beauty that is often hidden or ignored.
Working as a nanny in the northern part of Chicago, Maier could be found in the rough parts of town shooting while she was watching children. This eventually got her in some trouble, but her photos prove her artistic genius. However, though every family that she worked for can recall Vivian always having a camera around her neck, shooting anything and everything, they never saw any of her photos. In fact, no one had ever seen anything she had shot until recently in 2007 when her negatives and undeveloped film were auctioned off at a storage unit sale. After all of her boxes were located and compiled, over 100,000 strips of negatives were found and thousands of undeveloped film as well. Ironically enough, an initial search of Maier’s name revealed nothing, so the box of negatives and rolls of film sat for two years. With a second search of her name, an obituary emerged. Sadly, Vivian Maier would never know just how talented she was and how well-received her photographs would be in the genre of street photography. After her photographs were scanned and uploaded to blogs, her brilliance was finally realized and appreciated. Her photography was then taken to galleries across the world, displaying her story, thoughts, and dreams. And just to think… a year before, no one had ever heard of her. Sadly, Vivian Maier passed away in a nursing home only a few months before her photography took off.
Without a doubt, Vivian Maier will go down in history as one of the best street photographers this world has ever known. People are often bewildered as to why she hid her film and talents, and they will never really know why. She is described through Winston Churchill’s famous quote as, “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” This, we at least know, stands true. Piecing together her life and trying to make sense of it all is complex and has taken many years and will take many more. But, for now, enjoying and learning through her photos are more than enough.