Recognizing an Obscure Photographer’s Hidden Gifts
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
We all have gifts. But sometimes those gifts remain invisible to the people around us. This was true for Vivian Maier (1926-2009), a Chicago transplant who earned her living as a nanny and privately honed her craft as street photographer for over four decades.
Maier’s work was first discovered at an estate auction in 2007 by John Maloof, a twenty-something real estate agent and flea market maven. Eventually he realized he’d stumbled upon a trove of photographic gems. Maloof now holds 100,000 of Maier’s negatives and devotes himself full time to showcasing Maier’s work, which is now on exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center through April 3, 2011.
Not much is known about Maier. She apparently lived a solitary, reclusive life. Her former employers remember her camera as a constant companion. When she died, she left behind hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film. Public recognition may not have mattered much to her. Now, thanks to a stranger’s gift for recognizing Maier’s talent, the rest of us get to behold the world as Vivian Meir saw it through her artful lens.
(photo: Vivian Maier self-portrait)