Sunday, December 4, 2011

Vivian Maier, Street Photographer

Vivian Maier - Self-Portrait

I love the way photographers use the word "street," as in "street photography" - meaning full of life, revelatory, unplanned, unposed, spontaneous, usually urban, and often both public (in front of, not behind, closed doors) and private (people closed within their own thoughts, unaware they're being photographed.) Some of my favorite books are titles that collect street photography from different countries, different cities - the "decisive moments" out on the street that almost accidentally (except for the beholder's gaze falling on them) define a culture, a class, or an individual. I love STREET PHOTOGRAPHY: FROM ATGET TO CARTIER-BRESSON and STREET LEVEL: NEW YORK CITY PHOTOGRAPHS 1987-2007 by Sue Kwon,

from Vivian Maier: Street Photographer

The one I'm giving myself for Christmas this year is VIVIAN MAIER: STREET PHOTOGRAPHER. Here's what the publishers tell us about her: "There is still very little known about the life of Vivian Maier. What is known is that she was born in New York in 1926 and worked as a nanny for a family on Chicago’s North Shore during the 50s and 60s. Seemingly without a family of her own, the children she cared for eventually acted as caregivers for Maier herself in the autumn of her life. She took hundreds of thousands of photographs in her lifetime, but never shared them with anyone. Maier lost possession of her art when her storage locker was sold off for non-payment. She passed away in 2009 at the age of 83."

John Maloof, himself a street photographer in Chicago, bought a box of Maier's negatives at an auction house and then, realizing what he had found, set out to bring her work to the public eye. It's an amazing story - what we're being asked to think about is not only the people who are the subjects of her stunning photographs, but about the life of this woman, a true artist, whose work was never seen until after her death. There's a terrific article about her (and images of her photographs) over at Good News Everyday.

Geoff Dyer, whose own book about photography, The Ongoing Moment, makes for a fascinating read, writes the introduction for this book. Can't wait to wrap it up and then unwrap it on Christmas Day. Here are a few photos from it to explain why I'm excited:


  1. vivian has been on my radar for nearly a year now, and if all my hinting doesn't yield this book in a few weeks it's going to be the first present I buy myself.

    street photography is hard. I've tried my hand and it takes an eye, patience, and more luck than anything. you have to capture moments faster than you can process them, almost like automatic writing done under hypnosis. the failure rate is high but the results are great.

    like most art I suppose.