Under her guise as a nanny in New York, Vivian Maier obsessively documented the city throughout the 1950’s and 60’s. Her incredible archive of photographs, amounting to over 100,000 pictures, was, however, never shared during her lifetime. Her handprints, made in the en-suite bathroom of her employer’s home, were kept secret.
While Maier seemed to live a relatively quiet life, she was not shy of life’s extremities. Her photographs cover themes from tragedy to love and are often very exposing. Spending her days as a nanny in a quiet suburb of Chicago, Maier would head into the city after work to document fleeting moments in the lives of those around her. Maier’s photographs candidly capture pedestrians going about their everyday lives, completely unfazed by her presence, from a couple asleep on a bus, to someone being arrested on the street. Her photographs are stills from the lives of ordinary people, many oblivious to the moment being captured.
Although Maier would on average shoot a roll of film a day, producing just under 100 exposures a week, she very rarely showed her work to anyone. Her handprints, made in the en-suite bathroom of her employer’s home, were kept secret.
Wearing her Rolleiflex twin lens camera as she wandered the streets, Maier’s photographs were shot from the waist, looking down into the camera and avoiding eye contact with the subject. This was a technique which created a divide between photographer and subject – a barrier behind which Maier could work without interruption, it also enabled Maier to go unnoticed. She captured portraits of distinctive individuals, often the homeless or groups of children at play in the road. Her photographs show her exceptional eye for detail and flair for composition. They are witty and intelligent, and charged with a strong sense of empathy. She took photographs of the downtrodden as well as the well-heeled, of youth and of age, endlessly inspired by the lives around her.
Remembered as ‘paradoxical’, ‘bold’ and ‘mysterious’ by those who look back at memories of their childhood nanny (Finding Vivian Maier, 2013), little more is known about Vivian Maier. Her obsession with documenting time and capturing life, led her to archive everything, paying for the storage of receipts, newspapers, voice recordings and hundreds of rolls of unprocessed film. Her overflowing collection of photographs capture tragic, mundane and playful moments which amass to form a delicate web of a life
(By Flora Miller)