Vivian Maier, Photographer

Self Portrait (Full Length Checkered Dress), 1955; from the Steven Kasher Gallery website
I had planned to do a post showing a number of works in black and white from recent and current exhibitions in Manhattan, but then I found the website of Vivian Maier, the photographer whose work was going to be part of the roundup, and I decided to focus this post completely on her.
 Above: Self Portrait (Window, Mirror Reflection), 1960s
Below: Untitled (Black Man's Hands Behind Back), 1960s
Both from the Steven Kasher Gallery website

Image from the Vivian Maier website: 1955, New York City

Egypt: Image from the Vivian Maier blog

Digne, France: 1959 image from the Vivian Maier website

Location not stated: Image from the Vivian Maier blog

Image from the Vivian Maier website: 1954, New York City

Vivian Maier (1926-2009) lived in Europe as a young woman and then, to support herself when she returned to the United States, went to work as a nanny in households in New York City and Chicago. She spent her free time photographing.
Working with what looks to be a twin lens Rollei, Maier captured the world around her with an observant, nuanced, photojournalistic eye that was tempered with empathy for the humanness of her subjects. Unlike the sensationalist Weegee, with whom she is paired at the Steven Kasher Gallery (through February 25); less sentimental than Helen Leavitt, and light years away from the creepiness of Diane Arbus, Maier created a place for herself in photography. 

The only problem is that no one knew about it it until 2007.  

Cobbling together information about Maier from the website about her, vivianmaier.com, I can tell you that while she photographed for much of her life, working for families took up most of her time. Then, when she was older and no longer employed, poverty forced her to put decades' worth of prints, negatives and rolls of undeveloped film into a storage locker. The well-dressed young woman in the self portraits became a homeless old woman. One of the families she’d worked for helped her pay for an apartment, but the storage locker was unknown to them and rent on it didn’t get paid. The contents were sold off.

The story might have ended there, except that in 2007 a man named John Maloof purchased many of the boxes at auction. Maloof is now the owner and curator of Maier's life's work, now called The Maloof Collection, which is dedicated to preserving her work and name. (Maloof is the owner of the informative website, as well as a more personal blog, both annotated links below), and from what I can tell, the Howard Greenberg Gallery  on 57th Street is the primary dealer. 

I saw Maier's work  at the Steven Kasher Gallery on 23rd Street, the downtown half of a two-gallery exhibition. (Howard Greenberg had a show up concurrently, though only Kasher's is still up at this writing). It was the first time I'd seen Maier's work--indeed, it was where I learned of her--and I felt as if I were privy to a discovery, a sensation heightened by the back-room installation of the work. I didn't photograph in the gallery, but I did pull images from various websites, all noted in their captions here. 

Installation shots of the Vivian Maier exhibition at the Steven Kasher Gallery, up through February 25. Image from the gallery website

We'll be learning more about Vivian Maier and her work as more images are scanned and they are released for exhibition. I suspect much of the work will go right to the museums. 
So for now, let me close this post with a description from the website: “The personal accounts from people who knew Vivian are all very similar. She was eccentric, strong, heavily opinionated, highly intellectual, and intensely private. She wore a floppy hat, a long dress, wool coat, and men’s shoes and walked with a powerful stride. With a camera around her neck whenever she left the house, she would obsessively take pictures, but never showed her photos to anyone. An unabashed and unapologetic original.” 

Couldn’t you just see her in New York? 

Image from the Vivian Maier website: Self Portrait, New York City, 1955

More info
. Website: www.vivianmaier.com --informative, with photographs, biography, and links to exhibitions, the book, and an upcoming video
. John Maloof’s blog: VivianMaier—Her Discovered Work --a more personal account of the collection


Nancy Natale said...

Thanks for posting this, Joanne. Vivian's work is remarkable - what an eye she had! So sorry that she ended her life so badly but how wonderful that her work was finally recognized for the genius that it was.

Michael Billie said...

She looks like a female version of Andy Warhol.

Kay Hartung said...

The photos show her very unique point of view. Makes you wonder how many women artists were never able to go public with their work.

Carole said...

How wonderful that her work is being show finally. I too wonder how often women artists go unnoticed or appreciated until their work is discovered after their deaths?

Michelle Arnold Paine said...


Is the link to the news story a year or two ago about the man who literally "discovered" her beautiful beautiful work. Thanks for the reminder... I had forgotten her name.

LXV said...

I've been following Vivian Meier for a couple of years now, since the story broke about John Maloof and his "discovery". I worried about his burden, curating and salvaging this treasure trove. I need not have. It's in good hand now, thankfully. I saw the show in Chelsea an wish there had been more. I also thought long and hard about the inevitable "dumpster" at the end of my life. Of course, this woman's work is brilliant—all the more so for me because it is during my lifetime, unlike that of Berenice Abbott or Helen Levitt—and I recognize the "post-war" clothing and customs she depicts. At
Steven Kasher, they had her juxtaposed with Weegee. How bizarre, and how telling. It was a good show, but i recommend visiting the website. You will see more and it is good.

Peggradyart said...

The photos are fascinating and the story is heartbreaking. Thanks for posting this, Joanne.

beverly said...

Joanne, I can see her in Chicago where her photographs were found and where she lived for 40 years. She was born in New York however, and did spend sometime there.

Chrisitne said...

I read and saved a brief article about her from the NY Times a few weeks ago, but somehow missed the info that her work was up in NY. If it's still there I will go see it this week. Really remarkable story, much that has
yet to be revealed and much of the "story" that we'll never know. What a relief that the "right' person "found" all of her work...imagine if it were a person less in tune, less inclined or just not interested...