Vivian Maier, a reclusive American nanny who took photographs in her spare time, never knew that she would become a famous photographer. It wasn’t until after she died in 2009, aged 83, in a Chicago nursing home, that she received critical acclaim, quite by chance.
An estate agent, John Maloof, had inadvertently bought a box of her photographs of Chicago at an auction house in 2007, when he was writing a book about the city’s architecture. In 2009, Maloof posted online some of the images that showed Maier’s affinity for outsiders and the disenfranchised. Her talent was so obvious that she was soon being compared to famous photographers including Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andre Kertesz.
Then, earlier this year, the documentary Finding Vivian Maier was nominated for an Oscar. It turned her from a fascinating art-world find into a household name. Now, a new exhibition in London will include a selection of Maier’s candid street photography, as well as her famous self-portraits.
In New York, June 1954, children on a New York street play with a fire hydrant (pictured above); in Self-Portrait, Chicago Area 1960, Maier can be seen staring up at a security mirror in a newsagent’s shop; in another – Self-Portrait, Undated – she is seen holding her hand-held camera in front of mirror in a shoe shop.
She captures a couple aboard a moving ship in Untitled, Undated; she juxtaposes a demolished old building in front of a new high-rise block in Chicago, IL, Undated; a little boy strokes a tabby cat on the street in New York, 1954.
“It is a bittersweet archive. Part of the romance is that we will never know why she obsessively went out with her camera to photograph the things she did, and what drove her to do so,” says Giles Huxley-Parlour, the gallery owner who represents Maier’s archive in the UK. “In the past five years, the archive has gone from being literally unknown to being one of the most talked-about and acclaimed in the world. The odds of this happening are mindblowing.”
‘Vivian Maier’, Beetles and Huxley, London W1 (beetlesandhuxley.com), 4 August to 5 SeptemberReuse content