Self Portrait, New York City, c. 1950s
|Born||Vivian Dorothea Maier
February 1, 1926
New York City, U.S.
|Died||April 21, 2009
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Vivian Dorothea Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was an eccentric street photographer. Maier worked for about forty years as a nanny, mostly in Chicago's North Shore, pursuing photography during her spare time. She took more than 150,000 photographs during her career, primarily of the people and architecture of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, although she also traveled and photographed worldwide.
During her lifetime, Maier's photographs were unknown and unpublished, and in fact she never developed many of her negatives. A Chicago historian and collector, John Maloof, acquired some of Maier's photos in 2007, while two other Chicago-based collectors, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow, also found some of Maier's prints and negatives in her boxes and suitcases around the same time. Maier's photographs were first published on the Internet in July 2008, by Slattery, but the work received little response. In October 2009, Maloof linked his blog to a selection of Maier's photographs on the image-sharing website Flickr, and the results went "viral", with thousands of people expressing interest. Critical acclaim and interest in Maier's work quickly followed, and since then, Maier's photographs have been exhibited in North America, Europe, and Asia, while her life and work have been the subject of books and documentary films.
Many details of Maier's life remain unknown. She was born in New York City, the daughter of a French mother, Maria Jaussaud, and an Austrian father, Charles Maier. Several times during her childhood she moved between the U.S. and France, living with her mother in the Alpine village of Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur near her mother's relations. Her father seems to have left the family temporarily for unknown reasons by 1930. In the 1930 census, the head of the household was listed as Jeanne Bertrand, a successful photographer who knew Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
In 1935, Vivian and her mother, Maria, were living in Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur and before 1940 returned to New York. Her father and brother Charles stayed in New York. The family of Charles, Maria, Vivian and Charles were living in New York in 1940, where her father worked as a steam engineer.
In 1951, aged 25, Maier moved from France to New York, where she worked in a sweatshop. She moved to the Chicago area's North Shore in 1956, where she worked primarily as a nanny and carer for the next 40 years. For her first 17 years in Chicago, Maier worked as a nanny for two families: the Gensburgs from 1956 to 1972, and the Raymonds from 1967 to 1973. Lane Gensburg later said of Maier, "She was like a real, live Mary Poppins," and said she never talked down to kids and was determined to show them the world outside their affluent suburb. The families that employed her described her as very private and reported that she spent her days off walking the streets of Chicago and taking photographs, usually with a Rolleiflex camera.
John Maloof, curator of some of Maier's photographs, summarized the way the children she nannied would later describe her:
"She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved. ... She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn't show anyone."
In 1959 and 1960, Maier took a trip around the world on her own, photographing Los Angeles, Manila, Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing, India, Syria, Egypt, and Italy. The trip was probably financed by the sale of a family farm in Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur. For a brief period in the 1970s, Maier worked as a nanny for Phil Donahue's children. She kept her belongings at her employers'; at one, she had 200 boxes of materials. Most were photographs or negatives, but Maier also collected newspapers and sometimes recorded audiotapes of conversations she had with people she photographed. In the documentary film Finding Vivian Maier, interviews with Maier's employers and their children suggest that Maier presented herself to others in multiple ways, with various accents, names, life details, and that her behavior with children could be inspiring and positive, and also unpredictable and frightening.
The Gensburg brothers, whom Maier had looked after as children, tried to help her as she became poorer in old age. When she was about to be evicted from a cheap apartment in the suburb of Cicero, the Gensburg brothers arranged for her to live in a better apartment on Sheridan Road in the Rogers Park Community area of Chicago. In November 2008, Maier fell on the ice and hit her head. She was taken to a hospital but failed to recover. In January 2009, she was transported to a nursing home in Highland Park, where she died on April 21, 2009.
Discovery and recognition
In 2007, two years before she died, Maier failed to keep up payments on storage space she had rented on Chicago's North Side. As a result, her negatives, prints, audio recordings, and 8mm film were auctioned. Three photo collectors bought parts of her work: John Maloof, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow. Maier's photographs were first published on the Internet in July 2008 by Slattery, but the work received little response.
Maloof had bought the largest part of Maier's work, about 30,000 negatives, because he was working on a book about the history of the Chicago neighborhood of Portage Park, Maloof later bought more of Maier's photographs from another buyer at the same auction. Maloof discovered Maier's name in his boxes but was unable to discover anything about her until a Google search led him to Maier's death notice in the Chicago Tribune in April 2009. In October 2009, Maloof linked his blog to a selection of Maier's photographs on Flickr, and the results went "viral", with thousands of people expressing interest.
In early 2010, Chicago art collector Jeffrey Goldstein acquired a portion of the Maier collection from Prow, one of the original buyers. Since Goldstein's original purchase, his collection has grown to include 17,500 negatives, 2,000 prints, 30 homemade movies, and numerous slides. In December 2014, Goldstein sold his collection of B&W negatives to Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto. Maloof, who runs the Maloof Collection, now owns around 90% of Maier's total output, including 100,000 to 150,000 negatives, more than 3,000 vintage prints, hundreds of rolls of film, home movies, audio tape interviews, and ephemera including cameras and paperwork, which he claims represents roughly 90 percent of her known work.
Since her posthumous discovery, Maier's photographs, and their discovery, have received international attention in mainstream media, and her work has appeared in gallery exhibitions, several books, and two documentary films.
In June 2014, lawyer and former photographer David C. Deal filed a legal case challenging the rights of current owners of Maier's negatives to commercialize them. The case seeks to establish if there is a legal heir to Maier's estate – a cousin in France – who should be recognized under American law. Under copyright law in the US, owning a photograph is distinct from owning copyright and the case may take several years to resolve, particularly since the potential heirs to the estate live outside the US. John Maloof, who owns the majority of Maier's known photographs, had previously tracked down a first cousin once removed in France and paid him for the rights; however, Deal believes he has found a closer relative in France who may be the estate's beneficiary.
Photography critic Allan Sekula has suggested that the fact that Maier spent much of her early life in France sharpened her visual appreciation of American cities and society. Sekula compared her work with the photography of Swiss-born Robert Frank: "I find myself imagining her as a female Robert Frank, without a Guggenheim grant, unknown and working as a nanny to get by. I also think she showed the world of women and children in a way that is pretty much unprecedented."
John Maloof has said of her work, "Elderly folk congregating in Chicago's Old Polish Downtown, garishly dressed dowagers, and the urban African-American experience were all fair game for Maier’s lens." Photographer Mary Ellen Mark has compared her work to that of Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Lisette Model, and Diane Arbus. Joel Meyerowitz, also a street photographer, has said that Maier’s work was "suffused with the kind of human understanding, warmth and playfulness that proves she was 'a real shooter'."
Maier's best-known photographs depict street scenes in Chicago and New York during the 1950s and 1960s. A critic in The Independent wrote that "the well-to-do shoppers of Chicago stroll and gossip in all their department-store finery before Maier, but the most arresting subjects are those people on the margins of successful, rich America in the 1950s and 1960s: the kids, the black maids, the bums flaked out on shop stoops." Most of Maier’s photographs are black and white, and many are casual shots of passers-by caught in transient moments "that nonetheless possess an underlying gravity and emotion".
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, William Meyers notes that because Maier used a medium-format Rolleiflex, rather than a 35mm camera, her pictures have more detail than those of most street photographers. He writes that her work brings to mind the photographs of Harry Callahan, Garry Winogrand, and Weegee, as well as Robert Frank. He also notes that there are a high number of self-portraits in her work, "in many ingenious permutations, as if she were checking on her own identity or interpolating herself into the environment. A shadowy character, she often photographed her own shadow, possibly as a way of being there and simultaneously not quite there." 
Roberta Smith, writing in The New York Times, has drawn attention to how Maier's photographs are reminiscent of many famous 20th century photographers, and yet have an aesthetic of their own. She writes that Maier's work "may add to the history of 20th-century street photography by summing it up with an almost encyclopedic thoroughness, veering close to just about every well-known photographer you can think of, including Weegee, Robert Frank and Richard Avedon, and then sliding off in another direction. Yet they maintain a distinctive element of calm, a clarity of composition and a gentleness characterized by a lack of sudden movement or extreme emotion."
In the documentary film Finding Vivian Maier (2013), the grown-up children whom Maier had cared for in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s recall how she combined her work as a photographer with her day job as a nanny. She would frequently take the young children in her care with her into the center of Chicago when she took her photographs. Occasionally they accompanied her to the rougher, run-down areas of Chicago, and, on one occasion, the stock yards, where there were bodies of dead sheep.
Books of Maier's photographs
- Vivian Maier: Street Photographer. Brookyln, NY: powerHouse, 2011. ISBN 978-1-57687-577-3. Edited by John Maloof.
- Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows. Chicago, IL: CityFiles, 2012. ISBN 978-0978545093. Edited by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams.
- Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits. Brookyln, NY: powerHouse, 2013. ISBN 978-1-57687-662-6. Edited by John Maloof.
- Eye to Eye: Photographs by Vivian Maier. Chicago, IL: CityFiles, 2014. ISBN 9780991541805. Edited and with text by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams.
- Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found. London: Harper Design, 2014. ISBN 9780062305534. Edited by John Maloof with text by Marvin Heiferman and Howard Greenberg.
Documentary films about Maier
- Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures (2013), directed by Jill Nicholls, produced by the BBC. This film was re-cut and released in the U.S. in December 2013, as The Vivian Maier Mystery.
- Finding Vivian Maier, November/December 2010, The Apartment Gallery (Apartment 02), Oslo, Norway
- March/April 2010, Bruun's Galleri, Århus, Denmark
- Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer, January–April 2011, Chicago Cultural Center
- Twinkle, twinkle, little star..., January–April 2011, Galerie Hilaneh von Kories, Hamburg, Germany
- Vivian Maier, Photographer, April–June 2011, Russell Bowman Art Advisory, Chicago, Illinois
- Vivian Maier - A Life Uncovered, July 2011, the London Street Photography Festival, London
- Vivian Maier, Photographer, July 2011 – January 2012, Hearst Gallery, New York
- Vivian Maier - A Life Uncovered, July–September 2011, Photofusion Gallery, London
- Vivian Maier, Photographer, September–November 2011, Stephen Cohen Gallery, Los Angeles
- December 2011 – February 2012, Steven Kasher Gallery, New York
- December 2011 – January 2012, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
- Vivian Maier – Hosted by Tim Roth, December 2011 – January 2012, Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Los Angeles
- Vivian Maier – Photographs January–April 2012, Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta
- Vivian Maier's Chicago, 2012–2014, Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois.
- A la recherche de Vivian Maier (In search of Vivian Maier), June/July 2011, Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur
- A la recherche de Vivian Maier (In search of Vivian Maier), July/August 2011, the Gap Library, Gap, Hautes-Alpes, France.
- Lo sguardo nascosto (The Hidden Glance), October–November 2012, Brescia, Italy.
- Vivian Maier, April–June 2013, Antwerp, Belgium, Gallery51
- Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, April 4 – June 16, 2013, Tampa, Fl; Florida Museum of Photographic Arts.
- Summer in the City, June 21 – August 17, 2013, Chicago, IL; Russell Bowman Art Advisory
- Vivian Maier, June 22 – August 11, 2013, Shanghai, China; Kunst.Licht Photo Art Gallery
- Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, July 27 – September 14, 2013, Toronto, ON; Stephen Bulger Gallery
- Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows – The Unknown Nanny Photographer, August 23 – October 3, 2013, Durango, Colorado; Open Shutter Gallery
- Vivian Maier: Picturing Chicago, October 2013, Chicago, IL; Union League Club
- Vivian Maier, November 2013 – June 2014, Tours, France; Jeu de paume.
- Vivian Maier, November 6 – December 21, 2013, Paris, France; Galerie Frederic Moisan
- Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, January–February 2014, Cleveland, Ohio; Cleveland Print Room
- Certificates of Presence: Vivian Maier, Livija Patikne, J. Lindemann, January 17 – March 8, 2014, Milwaukee, WI; Portrait Society Gallery
- Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, January 24 – March 1, 2014, Minneapolis, MN; MPLS Photo Center
- Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, February–June 2014, San Francisco, CA; Scott Nichols Gallery
- See All About It: Vivian Maier's Newspaper Portraits, March 3 – May 1, 2014, Berkeley, CA; The Reva and David Logan Gallery at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism
- Vivian Maier, Photographer, March 29 – May 10, 2014, Fribourg, Switzerland; Cantonal and University Library
- Vivian Maier: Out of The Shadows, March 29 – September 28, 2014, Chicago, IL; Harold Washington Library
- Vivian Maier - A Photographic Journey, May 8 – July 12, 2014, Highland Park, IL; The Art Center Highland Park
- Vivian Maier, Amatorka, May 9 – June 23, 2014, Warsaw, Poland; Leica Gallery
- "Vivian Maier – Street Photographer", November 7, 2014 – January 28, 2015, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; FOAM
- Permanent gallery of Maier’s work, opened 2014, Mpls Photo Center, Minneapolis, MN.
- “Vivian Maier: A Life Discovered” hosted by Tim Roth at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery in Los Angeles.
- Slattery, Ron. (July 2008) "Story", in Bighappyfunhouse. Retrieved on January 11, 2011.
- Beck, Katie (January 21, 2011). "Vivian Maier: A life's lost work seen for first time". BBC. Retrieved January 21, 2011.
- "Vivian Maier", Chicago Tonight, broadcast by WTTW, December 22, 2010. Retrieved on January 4, 2011
- "Exhibitions | Vivian Maier". Vivianmaierprints.com. September 14, 2013. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- O'Donnell, Nora (December 14, 2010). "The Life and Work of Street Photographer Vivian Maier", Chicago Magazine. Retrieved on January 4, 2011.
- "From Factory to High Place as Artist, Jeanne J. Bertrand". The Boston Globe. August 23, 1902. Retrieved July 2, 2014.
- United States Federal Census 1940; New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2653; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 31-1242.
- Cahan, Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, pp. 86–87
- Houlihan, Mary (January 2, 2011). A developing picture: The story of Vivian Maier , The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved on January 4, 2011.
- Maloof, John (October 22, 2009). "Vivian Maier - her discovered work". vivianmaier.blogspot. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
- Cahan, Vivien Maier: Out of the Shadows, 2012, pp. 40–41
- Doanhue interview, Finding Vivian Maier documentary film
- Finding Vivian Maier (2013), directors John Maloof, Charlie Siskel
- Cahan, Vivien Maier: Out of the Shadows, 2012, p. 263
- Cahan, Vivien Maier: Out of the Shadows, 2012, p.283
- Slattery, Ron. (July 2008) "Story", in Bighappyfunhouse. Retrieved on January 11, 2011.
- Newsletter January 2009 - Number IX, Jefferson Park Historical Society. p. 2. "...we celebrated the publishing of a new book, 'Portage Park', authored by JPHS executive board members Dan Pogorzelski and John Maloof."
- "Vivian Maier death notice". Chicago Tribune obituaries. April 23, 2009. Retrieved July 18, 2014.
- "Maloof Collection".[dubious ]
- "Little Miss Big Shot", The Independent (November 1, 2009). Retrieved on January 4, 2011.
- Profetico, Cecilia (October 22, 2009)."Tras una subasta, encuentran 40.000 negativos escondidos en un mueble", Clarín (Buenos Aires) in Spanish; Thorén, Line (November 9, 2009)."Hemlös fotograf slår igenom – efter sin död", Aftonbladet (Stockholm) in Swedish. Retrieved on January 4, 2011.
- Kennedy, Randy (September 5, 2014). "The heir's not apparent". The New York Times. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
- Clark, Nick (September 8, 2014). "Relatives fight over Vivian Maier's rare photos". The Indepedendent. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
- Hornaday, Ann (April 14, 2014). "‘Finding Vivian Maier’ movie review: Portrait of a great, if not a straight, shooter". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
- Kotlowitz, Alex (May–June 2011). "The Best Street Photographer You've Never Heard Of". Mother Jones. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
- Meyers, William (January 3, 2012). "The Nanny's Secret". wsj.com. Retrieved July 2, 2014.
- Smith, Roberta (January 19, 2012). "Vivian Maier: 'Photographs From the Maloof Collection'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 6, 2014.
- Cahan, Vivien Maier: Out of the Shadows, 2012, p. 262
- "Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures (2013)". IMDB. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "The Vivian Maier Mystery (2013)". IMDB. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Finding Vivian Maier (2013)". IMDB. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- Woodward Richard (March 25, 2014). "Nanny Strangest: On "Finding Vivian Maier"". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
- "Finding Vivian Maier". The Apartment Gallery. Retrieved December 14, 2012.
- "Vivian Maier Exhibitions & Events".
- "January 8th, 2011 - April 3rd, 2011, Chicago Cultural Center, Vivian Maier". ArtSlant. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Vivian Maier: Twinkle, twinkle, little star...". Galerie Hilaneh von Kories.
- "Review: Vivian Maier/Russell Bowman Art Advisory".
- "Vivian Maier: A Life Uncovered". London Street Photography Festival.
- "Vivian Maier Exhibitions".
- Roth, Tim. "Tim Roth Twitter Update".
- "Vivian Maier – Jackson Fine Art".
- "Actualités juillet 2011, Anima Gap, le blog".
- "Galleria dell'Incisione - Mostra Vivian Maier".
- "Gallery 51 – Vivian Maier".
- "Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows". FMoPA. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Vivian Maier, Photographer, Art show at Russell Bowman, 2011". Bowmanart.com. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "kunst.licht Photo Art Gallery Shanghai". Kunstlicht.sh. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Stephen Bulger Gallery". Bulgergallery.com. September 14, 2013. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Open Shutter Gallery". Open Shutter Gallery. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Past Exhibitions - Union League Club of Chicago". Ulcc.org. September 20, 2011. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Jeu de Paume – Vivian Maier".
- "Galerie_Frédéric Moisan". Galerie-fmoisan.fr. November 6, 2013. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Vivian Maier exhibition at the Cleveland Print Room reveals the magic of a photographic master unknown in her lifetime".
- "Projects, portrait related art, social engagement". Portrait Society Gallery. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "MPLS Photo Center- Minneapolis, MN | Vivian Maier". Vivianmaierprints.com. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Scott Nichols Gallery".
- Chuck Harris. "See All About It–Events–UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism". Journalism.berkeley.edu. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire Fribourg". Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire Fribourg. May 12, 1965. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Harold Washington Library Center Exhibit Features Vivian Maier’s Photos of Chicago | Chicago Public Library". Chipublib.org. March 25, 2014. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "The Art Center – Highland Park: The Art Center – Highland Park". Theartcenterhp.org. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Vivian Maier, Amatorka | Leica Camera Polska". Leica-camera.pl. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- "Vivian Maier – Street Photographer". foam.org. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
- "Vivian Maier Gallery". Mpls Photo Center. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
- John Maloof Collection website on Vivian Maier
- Jeffrey Goldstein Collection website on Vivian Maier
- Finding Vivian Maier – An Interview with Producer, Co-Director Charlie Siskel by Stephen Slaughter Head, PostMovie.net, April 3, 2014
- "The Nanny's Secret" by William Meyers, The Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2012
- "Vivian Maier: The Unheralded Street Photographer" by David Zax, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2011