Vivian Maier: the nanny street photographer we should all know about

Vivian Maier was an amateur street photographer  born in New York in 1926. She grew up in France and in 1951 she came back to New York where she lived for a while and then eventually spent most of her life in Chicago.

Self Portrait, 1953, New York, NY (C) Vivian Maier Prints

Maier worked as a nanny with multiple families in both cities for over forty years.The families  and the kids whom she cared for remembered her as very private, shy who spent her days off walking the streets taking pictures.  Her personality reminds me a little bit of Helen Levitt. She shot mostly in black and white using a Rolleiflex camera but she also shot in color later in her life.

Undated , New York, NY (C) Vivian Maier Prints

1959, 108th St East, New York, NY (C) Vivian Maier Prints

She became really poor and was saved by the families she worked for when they bought her a house and paid some of her bills.  Eventually she couldn’t afford paying those bills and some of her possessions were sold at an auction including a storage locker containing over 30,000 prints and negatives.

1954, New York, NY (C) Vivian Maier Prints

Undated (C) Vivian Maier Prints

The most exciting part of Vivian Maier’s is that her work was only discovered in 2009,two years after her death, when John Maloof, president of the Jefferson Park Historical Society in Chicago bought the storage locker containing the images while working on a book about the Chicago neighborhood of Portage Park.

1954, Staten Island, New York, NY (C) Vivian Maier Prints

1979, (C) Vivian Maier Prints

Her images were destined to remained in obscurity and we would have never seen such wonderful depiction of life in the streets during the 1950’s and 1960’s if it wasn’t for the fortuitous discovery of her images in the auctioned locker.

Her images impacted the world of street photography and are part of the new revival of this genre of photography.


One thought on “Vivian Maier: the nanny street photographer we should all know about

  1. Hi Juan,
    I recently purchased John Maloof’s book on Vivian and I was immediately struck by the intimacy, close-range, how invisible she was able to make herself in shooting her subjects. My favorite image in the book is the portrait of the young African American woman: highlights in her leather coat slightly blown out, expression in her eyes and posture, the obvious connection the photographer was able to make with a stranger.
    Thanks for this blog post. I haven’t seen the ferry boat image or any of the artist’s color work before.

    Kathy Cadigan – (Jay Maisel Workshop, Oct. 2011)

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