Vivian Maier – Street Photography

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It’s become fairly clear to me that taking good photographs is a technical challenge.  One has to understand a camera beyond the automatic settings.  Beyond that, though, is the art of photography: 

  • finding a worthy subject
  • framing it suitably
  • timing the moment to capture the need or inspiration
The purpose also plays a role.  Certainly personal remembrances are a major reason for photographs, but sooner or later, the intent is that they be shared.  They’re not as satisfying without the tale of what it was or others’ feedback.

I recently learned of Vivian Maier, a nanny who apparently had no friends but who had a passion for walking the streets of Chicago (and other places) beginning in the 1950’s.  She was known to take pictures by her employers but she never shared them with anyone.  100,000 of them.  Imagine that.  A full adulthood of taking photos and keeping them stored in boxes that no one saw.

At the end of the post is the story of how her photos were found and are gradually being released and possibly brought to prominence.  There have been other photographs who have done similar work, but I’ve found hers to be quite satisfying, in both the subject matter and the voyeuristic aspect of wondering about this very private woman who wandered about at the edge of each scene.

Following are some samples, and like any photograph, each becomes an instant in time that is preserved, in this case for 40-50 years later. Certainly, Chicago was an urban city, but what strikes me is that so much activity would now be contained indoors due to air-conditioning.  Still, the dress styles, the activities, the chiseled faces, the unknown thoughts of those pictured... It’s just interesting... as well as a woman’s ability to insert herself into the scenes and capture the moment.  Taking photos of strangers takes a certain personality and confidence, or, perhaps a non-threatening unobtrusiveness.  The latter is difficult when you’re holding a sizable camera.


Following is a video of a biographical sketch of Maier and the young man, John Maloof, who came across her film, recognized its potential and is gradually making it known.  By one report, 90,000 of her photos remain to be processed.  A documentary is also forthcoming.

Links with sample pictures:
Artsy - Vivian Maier

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