Photographers who Inspire - Vivian Maier

I've been thinking a lot lately about time. Time to live, time to create. Especially time to create. How to MAKE time to create. How to create in the little time that we do have. You know, because few of us have the luxury of spending all of our waking hours making art. 

There's a photographer who I find inspiring partly because of the quality of her work. Her street photography is stunning - so stunning that her portfolio can hold its own against other famous street photographers. (I've just started a class in street photography - planning to improve my own fledgling skills).

I find her especially inspiring because she did her work in the small moments, the in-between moments, the moments that you grab once you have taken care of your other responsiblities. Once everyone was fed and watered and cared for, that's when she picked up her camera.

Vivian Maier was a nanny. Without any formal training and with no recognition of her portfolio that lay undiscovered in a storage locker until 2007, Vivian Maier took over 100,000 negatives over 5 decades in New York and Chicago. 

Let's take a look at her work. Take note of where your eye goes as you look at this photograph. The bits of drama and life with the kids playing, the conversations in the windows, the women walking, the man observing the street.

Vivian Maier street photography

In 1949 Maier started with a Kodak Brownie that had no shutter speed, no focus control and no aperture dial. She purchased a Rolleiflex in 1952 and starting shooting photos in New York where she worked for a family in Southhampton.

Vivian Maier street photography

It's a challenge to take black and white photos, to take into account the range of greys.

Vivian Maier street photography


Vivian Maier street photography

 

In 1956 she moved to Chicago to work for the Gensburg family caring for their three boys. She remained close to them for the rest of her life. While in their employ she had her own private bathroom that she also used as a darkroom to develop her black and white film. 

Vivian Maier street photography

Vivian Maier street photography

Vivan Maier street photography

Never married, never had any children, and never really had any close friends. 

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.

But she wasn't so private that she didn't take any self portraits.

Vivian Maier street photography

Vivan Maier street photography

By the early 1970's she worked for other families as the Gensburg boys had grown. No longer having a darkroom available nor the funds to pay for processing, she began to amass a huge collection of undeveloped film. Boxes and boxes. Think mini-storage amount of boxes.

By the 1990's she had fallen on hard times and stopped taking photos. Most of her possessions, including her photographic portfolio, ended up in storage. Remember, no one had any idea of the quality and the quantity of her photographs.

She became homeless for a time and the Gensburg family helped out by finding her a studio apartment. She fell on some ice in 2009 and passed away shortly thereafter.

But what about those boxes of undeveloped film and photographs? They were sold off in 2007 to pay for storage rent arrears. A real estate agent and history buff, John Maloof bought Maier's negatives and prints at auction while researching a Chicago neighbourhood. 

By now 90% of her work has been archived and catalogued. 

Think about it - all of this amazing work and no one knew. I mean, they knew that she took photographs. But they had no idea how talented she was and the portfolio that she had amassed. A portfolio amassed in those in-between moments. Not working as a photographer full time. Not professionally trained. Just finding some time here and there to take some photos of whatever captured her imagination.

What you do you create in your in-between moments?