Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Main Lesson Vivian Maier Can Teach You About Photography.

Vivian Maier. Self Portrait, New York City, c. 1950s; via Wikipedia
“Well, I suppose nothing is meant to last forever. We have to make room for other people. It’s a wheel. You get on, you have to go to the end. And then somebody has the same opportunity to go to the end and so on.” – Vivian Maier


Vivian Maier’s life was a mystery. We know exactly that she worked much of her life as a nanny, keeping her artistic part of life a secret; died in 2009 at the age of 83, nearly penniless, without family; she left more than 100,000 negatives that were discovered by John Maloof.

There is no truly objective information about her life.
Members of the families where Vivian Maier worked as a nanny now contradict each other.

For example, Joe Matthews suspects some trauma in Maier's own past and possibly abuse, he said: "I don't think she liked kids at all really. I think she liked images.”

But three of the children she had cared of in Chicago (the Gensburgs) remembered her as a second mother. Between the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, when Vivian became poor and was temporarily homeless, she was ultimately saved by them (they helped to pay for a small studio apartment). After her death the death notice was published: “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.”

There are different opinions about Vivian Maier’s photography.
Colin Westerbeck, the former curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago and one of the experts on street photography, thinks Maier is an interesting case. “She worked the streets in a savvy way,” he says. “But when you consider the level of street photography happening in Chicago in the fifties and sixties, she doesn’t stand out.”

But as John Maloof says: “I owe Vivian an honest effort to get her recognized as one of the great photographers of her time”. 

Vivian Maier took photos everywhere she went. Often she was unnoticed by her subjects. However at some photographs you can see that people look at her curiously as if they noticed that she was photographing them.
 Sometimes she photographed at a close distance and shot intimate portraits. Sometimes she showed the environment and interesting street scenes too.
Vivian Maier photographed people (including self-portraits), architecture and random objects in the streets.

Like a truly talented artist, Vivian Maier was a reflection of the time and place in which she worked. Now her work is a part of the history of photography.

 She didn't share her photos with anyone, except some of the children in her care. Tony Fitzpatrick - a Chicago artist - revels in the fact that she saw no need to show off her work.
“It tells you the most important thing about her,” he says. “She made them for all the right reasons. She made them to hold on to her place in the world. She made them because to not make them was impossible. She had no choice.”

Truly one of the world’s greatest arts educators, Konstantin Stanislavsky wrote:
“Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.” 
I think in photography we can apply the same idea. “Love the art of photography in yourself, not yourself in the art of photography”.
And it is the main lesson Vivian Maier can teach us.

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