For decades, Vivian Maier roamed New York and Chicago, surreptitiously taking tens of thousands of photographs of people and scenes she encountered on the streets. But her photographic prowess was unknown until 2007, two years before her death, when she fell behind on payments for a storage locker and the goods inside were auctioned off.
More recently, Maier has slowly begun to gain recognition for her work and for her mysterious life. Now his eclectic photographs of street scenes are the subject of their first large-scale exhibition in the UK.
With more than 140 photographs, as well as audio and video extracts, “Vivian Maier: Anthologyis currently on display at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, a town about 55 miles northwest of London. The exhibition showcases Maier’s unique ability to capture everyday life and infuse it with “wit, humor and (a) deep sense of humanity”, according to the gallery.
Maier photographed burning furniture, electrical cables, children, housewives, homeless people, abandoned toys – and almost everything in between, all with a skill “far beyond that of any amateur to part-time,” the gallery notes.
The story of Maier’s rise to critical acclaim is every bit as compelling as his art. She worked as a professional nanny for over 40 years, during which she secretly took over 150,000 photographs. She often took the children she cared for on “shooting safaris,” which involved walking the streets, often in poor neighborhoods, while wearing “funny, old-fashioned clothes,” reports the GuardianThis is Adrian Searle.
Maier, of a secretive nature, often took refuge in the rooms that his respective employers gave him inside their homes. When asked personal questions, she often gave different versions of her backstory and often changed the spelling of her name. Maier printed some of her own photographs and left many other rolls of film undeveloped, packing her work in suitcases and boxes, which she hid in storage lockers.
In 2007, Chicago realtor John Maloof purchased one of these lockers, fell in love with the photographs inside, and began a long quest to learn more about Maier. His 2013 documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, sparked a keen interest in the previously unknown photographer and her work, propelling her to posthumous fame. As Chloë Ashby writes for the art diaryMaier quickly became a “remarkable figure in twentieth-century American photography”.
The film also sparked a complex legal battle over control of his work and his legacy. (Mayer died in 2009 in a Chicago nursing home after slipping on the ice.) In the end, a judge settle the case but sealed the details of the arrangement. According Maloof’s lawyers, the agreement established a “cooperative structure that allows Maloof to continue to shine a light on Maier’s extraordinary photography while preserving his legacy.” Other exposureions of his work have since taken place in Germany, France, Portugal, Sweden and elsewhere in the world.
“I knew she had talent, but it’s amazing what she did with it,” said Linda Matthews, who hired Maier to watch her three children in a Chicago suburb in the 1980s. Guardian» by Susanna Rustin in 2014. « Who could have imagined that she could have left so much behind her?
“Vivian Maier: Anthologyis on view at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, England until September 25.