This wonderful article was lovingly created by Hugo, a 2021 Rozelle Darkroom Intern
In today’s article, I discuss the history of the infamous photographer Vivian Maier and the important role she plays in the history of photography. Vivian Maier is undoubtedly one of the most alluring film photographers in history, not only in terms of her approach to the art of photography but also in her ability to capture decisive moments.
Vivian Dorothy Maier was an American street photographer whose work was not discovered until after her death in 2009. She was born in the Bronx borough of New York City, US to a French Mother and Austrian Father. Although born in the US, it was in France that Maier spent the majority of her youth. In 1951, Maier returned to the US where she took up work as a nanny and caregiver for the rest of her adult life.
In her leisure, however, Maier had begun to venture into the world of film photography. She consistently took photographs, encapsulating the world around her, she would ultimately leave behind over 100,000 negatives, most of which were shot in Chicago and New York City.
She also indulged in her passion for documenting the world around her with homemade films, recordings, and collections, assembling one of the most intriguing insights into American life of the second half of the twentieth century. Vivian Maier was an intensely private and guarded person, carrying with her a sense of mystery. It was these characteristics that aided her in her street photography, always remaining from the public eye so she could genuinely capture rare and candid moments of day-to-day life.
It was not until 2007 (two years before her death) that Maier’s large body of work was discovered. Her photographs were uncovered at a local thrift auction house on Chicago’s Northwest Side by the man – John Maloof. From there, her photographs would unknowingly impact the world and change the life of the man who brought her work to the public eye.
Over the course of her career, Maier used numerous SLR cameras, including a Rolleiflex 3.5T, Rolleiflex 3.5F, Rolleiflex 2.8C, Rolleiflex Automat and several others. She also later used a Leica IIIc, an Ihagee Exakta, a Zeiss Contarex and various other SLR cameras.
With the growing popularity of film photography, these cameras are still available to live out your Vivian Maier fantasies if you are lucky enough to find one!
Vivian Maier’s work predominantly depicts black and white images of the people and places where she resided (including New York City and Chicago). Luckily, Maier also took self-portraits, usually of her reflection in storefront windows or simply of her shadows. In doing so, we can put a face to the infamously mysterious, Vivian Maier. In the 1970s, Maier began to shoot more colour street photography, using mostly Kodak Ektachrome 35mm film (which has since unfortunately been discontinued). Her colour work was much more abstract than her earlier black and white street photography. There is a definite shift in her subject matter when you compare her earlier work to the latter.
Vivian Maier really took advantage of natural light and shadows, especially considering that majority of her photographs are in black and white, working with light proved to be necessary to create photographs with high contrast and juxtaposition. She was lucky enough to live in extremely buzzing cities, so she had constant access to imagery of architecture, people, and places.
What fascinates me most about Vivian Maier, is that throughout her entire life, not once did she share her body of work. In fact, she did quite the opposite, she hoarded all her negatives and undeveloped film. I draw a lot of inspiration from Vivian Maier because I find myself naturally imitating her style of work. She almost took her photographs in a ghostly manner, she was rarely seen or heard during the process, and in doing so she could effectively capture these moments of the human condition.
Currently, Vivian Maier’s body of work is being archived and catalogued for the enjoyment of others and for generations to come. Now, with roughly 90% of her archive reconstructed, Vivian Maier’s work is part of the film photography revival and its domination of the photographic industry and its future.