A new exhibition showcases a selection of the 150,000 artefacts discovered after the former nanny’s death
Tag: Vivian Maier
Publications we loved, and the big news stories from the last month in photobooks – featuring work by Peng Ke, Tom Wood, Paul Reas, Vivian Maier and the post-war PROVOKE group
She cradles a Rolleicord camera to her breast, her eyes staring into her reflection. Until recently, the woman behind the camera was unknown, living a quiet life as a nanny in Chicago and dying, alone in a nursing home, in 2009 at the age of 83. When Vivian Maier’s cache of 100,000 images were unearthed, her work was compared with the greats of street photography. A film was made, Finding Vivian Maier, which introduced a new generation to her work. But Maier herself was the draw; who, exactly, was the mysterious French nanny? What drove her relentless imagery, and why did she keep it so resolutely hidden?
Maier was a private but eccentric Mary Poppins-like figure, who spoke with a delicate French trill and was never without her medium format camera. She took thousands of photographs from the 1950s to 70s, but squirrelled them away in a room she forbade anyone to enter. She was poor, and in 2007 her possessions were auctioned off to recoup her debts – her archive of photographs among them. John Maloof, an estate agent and president of his local history society, discovered them at an auction and took a punt, hoping to find images for a book he was writing on the Portage Park area of Chicago. He found nothing relevant, and put the whole lot into storage for two years.
Since its discovery in 2009, Vivian Maier’s work – and her life – has attracted global attention. It been exhibited all over the world, featured in mainstream media outlets, and circulated in multiple books and films. Even so, many details of the American street photographer’s life remains a mystery.
We know that she worked as a nanny for 40 years in Chicago, and that she liked to spend time walking the streets, taking photographs with her Rolleiflex camera – with and without the children she was looking after. We also know that Maier took more than 150,000 photographs, many of which remain unseen, mostly of the people and architecture in Chicago, New York and LA, but also of herself, and her young charges.
Robin de Puy’s new series, Randy, started on a 2015 road trip across the US, after she spotted him by chance in Ely, Nevada, and she asked if she could take his photograph. Back in The Netherlands she found he stuck in her mind, and returned to see him at the end of 2016, in February 2017, and in May 2017, taking “hundreds” of portraits. An exhibition of this work, which includes photographs and videos, is on show at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht from 26 January-13 May; Hannibal also recently published the series as a photobook.