On looking at the photographs of Vivian Maier

January 08, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Vivian Maier was, in my estimation, a photographer of the first rank. She was a "street photographer", taking photographs of the random scenes she encountered while out and about on city streets, mainly the streets of New York and Chicago. Vivian had a day job that was not photography, she worked most of her life as a nanny for a well-to-do family. Thus one could call her an amateur photographer, but there was nothing amateur about her vision, her timing, and her technical prowess when it came to composing a picture, focusing, exposing and pressing the shutter release. She made captivating images of life being lived from the 1950's through the turn of the century. I personally can't get enough of her photographs, of the faces, the eyes, the expressions she encountered and froze in time forever. I find myself wondering about the people in the photographs and what became of them, how did their lives turn out after that 1/125 second encounter with Vivian, what were they like before the encounter? But each photograph also has me reflecting on and admiring Vivian herself, each image speaks to me of the awareness and empathy she had for her fellow man, of the tenderness that must have flowed from her, the prescience she had to recognize such scenes as those she photographed occurring in real time. However, it also appears (to me, but I have no concrete information to substantiate this) that Vivian did not outwardly express that tenderness and empathy that I see so clearly in her photographs. She apparently was an introvert, how else to explain that most all of those photographs she took over 50 years sat unprocessed or unprinted in her private belongings. What makes this story, and her photographs doubly (or triply) fascinating, is the details of Vivian's life and how her photographs came to be discovered - after her death - and ultimately made available for the likes of me to be touched and moved by them.

These photographs, the images themselves and the stories they tell, the thousand plus words embodied in each one, what they tell of the person who made them, and then the actual details of the life of the person who made them, in total constitute for me one of the sweet and glorious mysteries - enigmas - of human existence. She had an uncanny sense for finding signals in the noise (see my earlier blog entry from Jul 7, 2013) and the signals she found resonate strongly with me.

Vivian's photographs and the story of her life, as best it can be pieced together, can be found here:

http://www.vivianmaier.com/

I wish you could find photographs on my web site that were even 1% as good as what you will find there. Go there and look at the images in silent thoughtfulness, imagine walking down a street and noticing such scenes unfolding, of having a camera and composing and pressing the shutter at the "decisive moment". Look at the image, imagine.


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