Lost and Found

Vivian Maier – vivianmaier.com

Today, I want to share a photographer’s story.  Some you may have heard of the photographer Vivian Maier and are familiar with the particulars of her story, for those of you who don’t quite recognize the name, you’re in for a treat.

Vivian’s story is fascinating to me.  Vivian Maier is considered one of the great street photographers of her day. Her images capture daily life of New York City and Chicago in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  Decades where there was significant change in our society including the civil rights movement, war protests, and the youthful emergence of the Baby Boomer generation.  She had a gift for capturing life from the blue collar perspective. Her great library of work preserves the every day life from those pivotal decades, contrary to what my perception is of that historical period of our nation. I have images of the civil rights protests and marches, woodstock, and the Vietnam war protests all fused together in my head. She’s balanced me for this with her work. The crazy thing is, she was completely undiscovered until 2007, when her work was auctioned off due to unpaid rent at a storage facility.  I won’t go into all the particulars of her life and what little we actually know about her.  To get the full story, you can visit this research article on the official website of her work here. She took an amazing amount of photos, most of which have not yet been developed or archived. What peaked my interest about this whole thing is the main narrative. Here you have a photographer who quite literally was an unknown in her lifetime.

Untitled, Undated – vivianmaier.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about Vivian’s story in the context of today’s world.  With the influx of inexpensive digital cameras over the past several years, it’s never been easier to get out there and take a shot. This coupled with facebook, pinterest, google+ and the like (including the website of which you are currently visiting – thank you), you can make yourself into a billboard of images, strewn out for the world to see, benefiting from the immediate feedback of your peers. See my post here on communities like this completely devoted to image posting and feedback garnishing on Google+.  Now contrast this craziness with Vivian. I have this image of her in my mind, wondering the streets of Chicago with her camera, not thinking of her next shot in terms of notoriety, but just doing it for the love of the image.  I imagine her capturing these moments in time for herself, knowing the value of each and being sure of her craft. I don’t claim to know her actual intentions or have any special insight. I’m not sure if we’ll ever know her true intent for her photo’s. But, there’s just something about the quality of her work and being completely unknown that makes me hesitant to think that if she was young and doing all of this now, would she be using these sites and getting her name out there? I think she would just be confidently snapping away her shots and archiving her work just for the shear love of the craft.  That’s just my humble option.

If you have any interest at all in street photography, Vivian Maier should definitely be on your short list of inspirations. If you don’t know much about street photography, check out her images.  I’ve listed the main collections of her images below.  Lastly, if you could care less about any of this, it’s still worth a read to learn how she was discovered on the below sites. Amazing.

The Maloof collection
The Goldstein collection

The Lightbox Share this week is a collection of my own humble attempt at some street photography during one warm afternoon in October (it’s February in Bethlehem, PA right now, any other time than now is warm) at Celtic Fest downtown.  The whole project is located here with a sample image below.


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