Major Vivian Maier collection donated to University of Chicago Library

The University of Chicago Library has acquired thousands of previously unseen prints by Vivian Maier. The donation of around 2,700 vintage photographs was made by John Maloof, who discovered Maier’s archive in 2007, and comprises 1,200 black-and-white and 1,400 colour prints. The University of Chicago Library now represents the largest collection of Maier photographs held by any public institution, and the only significant collection open to researchers.

Maier spent the largest part of her life working as a nanny in Chicago, documenting the mid-century streets both there and in New York where the photographer also lived briefly. The gift represents the second made to the Library by Maloof, who previously donated 500 prints in 2017. It was Maloof who inadvertently purchased storage lockers containing a major proportion of the now-celebrated photographer’s work in 2007. The process of discovery, and the story of Maier’s life itself, was documented in the Academy Award-nominated 2013 film Finding Vivian Maier, which Maloof co-wrote and co-directed.

Most of the prints included in the donation have never been published or displayed before and will now be preserved and made accessible to researchers in the Special Collections Research Center. Daniel Meyer, the Center’s director, has described how “the vintage prints donated to the Library were made by Vivian Maier herself in her own darkroom, or printed for her by photo processors at her direction […] Researchers examining the collection will be able to see some examples of how she evaluated and edited her own work, which images she decided to enlarge or reprint, and which ones she chose to crop.”

Maier’s work joins several major collections of work by female photographers held by the University of Chicago Library, including those of photo-secessionist Eva Watson-Schütze, documentary photographer Mildred Mead, anthropologist Joan Eggan and literary photographer Layle Silbert.

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