Vivian Maier

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Vivian Maier
Vivian Maier.jpg
Maier in one of several self-portraits she took on the streets of Chicago
Birth name Vivian Dorothea Maier
Born (1926-02-01)February 1, 1926
New York, New York, U.S.
Died April 21, 2009(2009-04-21) (aged 83)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Nationality American
Field Photography

Vivian Dorothea Maier (February 1, 1926[citation needed] – April 21, 2009) was an American street photographer, who was born in New York City and spent much of her childhood in France. After returning to the United States, she worked for approximately forty years as a nanny in Chicago, Illinois. During those years, she took more than 100,000 photographs, primarily of people and cityscapes in Chicago, although she traveled and photographed worldwide.

Her photographs remained unknown and mostly undeveloped until they were discovered by a local Chicago historian and collector, John Maloof, in 2007. Following Maier's death, her work began to receive critical acclaim.[1][2] Her photographs have been exhibited in the U.S., Britain, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and France, and have appeared in newspapers and magazines in the U.S., Britain, Germany, Italy, France, and other countries. A book of her photographs, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, was published in 2011.

Personal life[edit]

Many details of Maier's life are unknown. She was born in New York City, the daughter of Maria Jaussaud and Charles Maier, French and Austrian respectively. She moved between the U.S. and France several times during her childhood, living with her mother in the Alpine village of Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur near to her mother's relations. Her father seems to have left the family for unknown reasons by 1930. In the census that year, the head of the household was listed as award-winning portrait photographer Jeanne Bertrand, who knew the founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.[3]

In 1951, aged 25, Maier moved from France to New York, NY, where she worked in a sweatshop. She moved to the Chicago area's North Shore in 1956 and there, for approximately 40 years, worked on and off as a nanny, staying with one family for 14 years. 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, most often with a Rolleiflex camera.[4]

John Maloof, curator of some of Maier's photographs, summarizes the way the children she nannied would later describe her:[5]

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 photographs in Los Angeles, Manila, Bangkok, Beijing, Egypt, Italy, and the American Southwest. 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,[3] and sometimes recorded audiotapes of conversations she had with people she photographed.[4]

Toward the end of her life, Maier may have been homeless for some time. She lived on Social Security and may have had another source of income. The children she had cared for in the early 1950s bought her an apartment in the Rogers Park area of Chicago and paid her bills. In 2008, she slipped on ice and hit her head. She did not fully recover and died in 2009 at the age of 83.[3][6]


Maier's images predominantly depict street scenes in Chicago and New York, in the 1950s and 1960s.[7] An article in The Independent said "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."[6] John Maloof has said of her work that "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."[8]

Posthumous discovery and publication[edit]

Maier's photographic legacy – in the form of some 100,000 negatives, many still undeveloped – was discovered by a 26-year-old real estate agent, John Maloof, also president of the Jefferson Park Historical Society in Chicago. While working on a book about the Chicago neighborhood of Portage Park,[9] Maloof bought 30,000 prints and negatives from an auction house that had acquired the photographs from a storage locker that had been sold off when Maier was no longer able to pay her fees.[2] After buying the first collection of Maier photographs in 2007, Maloof acquired more from another buyer at the same auction.[2][3][10] Maloof, who runs the Maloof Collection, owns 100,000 to 150,000 negatives, more than 3,000 vintage prints, hundreds of rolls of film, home movies, audio tape interviews, original cameras of Maier, documents, and other items, representing roughly 90 percent of Maier's work.[11] Maloof soon discovered Maier's name, but was unable to find out more about her until just after her death, when he found an obituary notice in the Chicago Tribune.[12]

Her work was first published on the Internet in July 2008 by Ron Slattery, who also had bought some of her work at the auction.[13]

In 2009, Maloof started to post some of Maier's photographs on a blog,[14] and eventually edited a book of her photographs, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, published by powerHouse Books in 2011.[15]

In the spring of 2010, Chicago art collector Jeffrey Goldstein acquired a portion of the Maier collection from 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. His collection is known as "Vivian Maier Prints Inc."[16]

Maier's photographs, and the way they were discovered, has received international attention in mainstream media.[1][2][6][17]

The book, Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows was released in 2012 using images from Goldstein's collection. During the same year, "Vivian Maier's Chicago" opened at the Chicago History Museum. This is the first museum exhibition of Maier's works. The exhibition also uses images from Goldstein's collection.

In 2013 a documentary film was released called Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures (also known as The Vivian Maier Mystery), directed by Jill Nicholls and produced by the BBC.

In September 2013, the feature-length documentary film Finding Vivian Maier, about Maier and Maloof's discovery of her work, directed by Maloof and Charlie Siskel, had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The US premiere was on November 17, 2013, at the IFC Theater in New York City. The film "follows Maloof as he tries to uncover the mysterious photographer’s backstory while at the same time trying to give her the fame that escaped her during her life."[18] Coinciding with the film is a new book Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits.

Since her posthumous discovery, Maier's work has featured in a number of gallery exhibitions.

Printed publications[edit]


  • Finding Vivian Maier, November/December 2010, The Apartment Gallery (Apartment 02), Oslo, Norway[19]
  • March/April 2010, Bruun's Galleri, Århus, Denmark[20]
  • Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer, January - April 2011, Chicago Cultural Center[3][21]
  • Twinkle, twinkle, little star..., January - April 2011, Galerie Hilaneh von Kories, Hamburg, Germany[22]
  • Vivian Maier, Photographer, April - June 2011, Russell Bowman Art Advisory, Chicago, Illinois, USA[23]
  • Vivian Maier - A Life Uncovered, July 2011, the London Street Photography Festival, London[24]
  • Vivian Maier, Photographer, July 2011 - January 2012, Hearst Gallery, New York[25]
  • Vivian Maier - A Life Uncovered, July - September 2011, Photofusion Gallery, London[20]
  • Vivian Maier, Photographer, September - November 2011, Stephen Cohen Gallery, Los Angeles[20]
  • December 2011 - February 2012, Steven Kasher Gallery, New York, New York[20]
  • December 2011 - January 2012, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York[20]
  • Vivian Maier - Hosted by Tim Roth, December 2011 - January 2012, Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Los Angeles[20][26]
  • Vivian Maier - Photographs January - April 2012, Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta[27]
  • Vivian Maier's Chicago", September 2012 - present, 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.[28]
  • Lo sguardo nascosto (The Hidden Glance), October - November 2012, Brescia, Italy.[29]
  • Vivian Maier: Out Of The Shadows - April - June 2013, Tampa, Florida, USA; Florida Museum of Photographic Arts[30]
  • Vivian Maier, April - June 2013, Antwerp, Belgium, Gallery51[31]
  • Vivian Maier, November 2013 - June 2014, Tours, France[32]
  • Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows - January - February 2014, Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Print Room[33]

Documentary films about Maier[edit]

  • Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures (2013), directed by Jill Nicholls, produced by the BBC.[34] Also known as The Vivian Maier Mystery.[35]
  • Finding Vivian Maier (2013), directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Beck, Katie (January 21, 2011). "Vivian Maier: A life's lost work seen for first time". BBC. Retrieved January 21, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Vivian Maier", Chicago Tonight, broadcast by WTTW, December 22, 2010. Retrieved on January 4, 2011
  3. ^ a b c d e O'Donnell, Nora (January 2011). "The Life and Work of Street Photographer Vivian Maier", Chicago Magazine. Retrieved on January 4, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Houlihan, Mary (January 2, 2011). A developing picture: The story of Vivian Maier , The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved on January 4, 2011.
  5. ^ Unfolding the Vivian Maier mystery...", in Vivian Maier - her discovered work, John Maloof's blog for October 22, 2009. Retrieved on Nov. 14, 2009.
  6. ^ a b c "Little Miss Big Shot", The Independent (November 1, 2009). Retrieved on January 4, 2011.
  7. ^ Kotlowitz, Alex (May/June 2011). "The Best Street Photographer You've Never Heard Of". Mother Jones. Retrieved November 11, 2011. 
  8. ^ p.5
  9. ^ 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."
  10. ^ Maloof, John (October 2009). Unfolding the Vivian Maier mystery...", in Vivian Maier - Her Discovered Work. Retrieved on November 14, 2009.
  11. ^ "Maloof Collection". [dubious ]
  12. ^ Official Obituary, The Chicago Tribune
  13. ^ Slattery, Ron. (July 2008) "Story", in Bighappyfunhouse. Retrieved on January 11, 2011.
  14. ^ Maloof, John. "Vivian Maier - Her Discovered Work" Curator's blog. Retrieved on January 4, 2011.
  15. ^ "Book: Vivian Maier - Street Photographer". 
  16. ^ Vivian Maier Prints Inc."[1]"
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Holly Bailey (November 11, 2013). "Finding Vivian Maier: A new doc tries to unearth clues about the life of a mysterious street photographer". Yahoo News. Retrieved November 11, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Finding Vivian Maier". The Apartment Gallery. Retrieved 14 December 2012. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f "Vivian Maier Exhibitions & Events". 
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Vivian Maier: Twinkle, twinkle, little star...". Galerie Hilaneh von Kories. 
  23. ^ "Review: Vivian Maier/Russell Bowman Art Advisory". 
  24. ^ "Vivian Maier: A Life Uncovered". London Street Photography Festival. 
  25. ^ "Vivian Maier Exhibitions". 
  26. ^ Roth, Tim. "Tim Roth Twitter Update". 
  27. ^ "Vivian Maier - Jackson Fine Art". 
  28. ^ "Actualités juillet 2011, Anima Gap, le blog". 
  29. ^ "Galleria dell'Incisione - Mostra Vivian Maier". 
  30. ^ "Florida Museum of Photographic Arts". 
  31. ^ "Gallery 51 - Vivian Maier". 
  32. ^ "Jeu de Paume - Vivian Maier". 
  33. ^ "Vivian Maier exhibition at the Cleveland Print Room reveals the magic of a photographic master unknown in her lifetime". 
  34. ^ "Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures (2013)". IMDB. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  35. ^ "The Vivian Maier Mystery (2013)". IMDB. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  36. ^ "Finding Vivian Maier (2013)". IMDB. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 

External links[edit]