All of us take photographs. Some snap pictures of family on vaca- tions, others preserve their lunches in photos. There are also people for whom photography is a profession – whether they are photojour- nalists, advertising photographers or simply take passport photos for their clients. An amateur is a term which is still associated with someone with less skills and worse than a professional, a beginner, a hobbyist. Vivian Maier was amateur for all her life. Her photographs nowadays, after the death of their author, enchant the whole world.
The story of Vivian’s photographs seems to be straight out of a fairy tale. In the year 2007, John Maloof buys some negatives at a garage sale. He scans the first frames out of several thousand. He is enchanted by the photographs, but has no clue as to who is their author. He uses the Internet to send the few first frames across the world and asks whether someone knows the photographer. The search took him several years, and what he learned was a story as fascinating as the photographs made by Vivian Maier.
Since the 1950s, she had been taking photos of people in the streets of New York and Chicago. She was interested in comical situ- ations, sometimes in reflections, in newspaper headlines or compo- sitions of small objects – but also in absurdities, in the difficult and grim issues. She left behind also a large collection of self-portraits.
Maier carried the camera with her always. She took it to work. Perhaps this is why she had chosen the profession of nanny – to be able to constantly take photographs. In one of the first publica- tions on Vivian, its author Geoff Dwyer quotes the poem “Census” by Wislawa Szymborska, “Homer works in the statistical office / Nobody knows what he does at home.” In doing so, he found a met- aphor for Vivian herself, who nowadays is sometimes referred to as the modern-day Mary Poppins. She took the children for walks around the town which lasted for many hours, sometimes ventur- ing into such areas as the slums districts or the slaughterhouse. So far, over 150 000 of her photographs have been found – while Vivian lived, the only people who saw them were the employees of the photo lab.
Today, Vivian’s works are shown during the most important photo festivals and at great galleries all over the world. Her story is reminiscent of Jacques Lartigue, even though she did not take photos since her childhood, and Lartigue presented his photos and was appreciated for them while he was still alive. But their photo- graphs show similar euphoria and fun, the joy of photographing. The amateur truth. The question presents itself, how would Vivian feel if she received those triumphs and recognition in her lifetime? What would she have told us, delighted with her photographs? Was Vivian really an amateur?
Presented photographs come from The Jeffrey Goldstein Collection. Vivian Maier prints are available for sale at Leica Gallery Warszawa.