Vivian Maier (1926–2009) was a French-born American amateur street photographer working for over forty years as a nanny in Chicago, Illinois. Taking snapshots into the late 1990s, Maier left behind a body of work comprising over 100,000 negatives primarily of people and Chicago cityscapes.
Maier worked as a nanny for three boys she raised like a mother. Her former charges, all now adults recounted with great affection how she’d take them on outings to the city, always carrying her Rolleiflex. She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t share with anyone. When the children entered adulthood in the early seventies, it ended Maier’s employment from that first Chicago family, and forced her to abandon developing her own film. As she would move from family to family, her rolls of undeveloped, unprinted work began to accumulate.
She was remembered as a socialist, a feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved. She wore men’s jackets, men’s shoes and a large hat most of the time.
Her photographs remained unknown and mostly undeveloped, until their discovery at a local auction in 2007 by Chicago historian and collector, John Maloof. Through his efforts, her body of work is being archived and cataloged for future generations. Her work has begun to receive critical acclaim. Her photographs have been exhibited and written about in newspapers in the US, England, Germany, Denmark, and Norway. A book of her photography titled Vivian Maier: Street Photographer was published in 2011.
Upon her death she was paid tribute,
“Vivian Maier, proud native of France and Chicago resident for the last 50 years died peacefully on Monday. Second mother to John, Lane and Matthew. A free and kindred spirit who magically touched the lives of all who knew her. Always ready to give her advice, opinion or a helping hand. Movie critic and photographer extraordinaire. A truly special person who will be sorely missed but whose long and wonderful life we all celebrate and will always remember.”
Now, with roughly 90% of her archive reconstructed, Vivian’s work is part of a renaissance in interest in the art of Street Photography.
Vivian Maier Blog