Vivian Maier: Discovering Chicago’s Reclusive Street Photographer

Vivian Maier: Discovering Chicago’s Reclusive Street Photographer

When John Maloof bid on a box of old photographic negatives at a 2007 estate auction, little did he know that he was stepping deep into the dark mystery of Vivian Maier.  Maloof was searching for images to use in a book about the history of Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood.  Instead, what he found were 30,000 images by Maier, who spent much of her time wandering Chicago and the world as a street photographer with a keen eye for capturing compelling images.

Since then, Maloof has amassed an archive of Maier’s life and work.  Now, Maier’s photographs and life story are gaining attention, including at the Chicago Cultural Center, where the exhibit Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer opens on Friday.  “There weren’t many women doing street photography in the ’50s and ’60s,” said Lanny Silverman, chief curator at the Cultural Center.  “So this is very interesting and noteworthy.  Beyond just the story of her life, she’s quite a good photographer.”

The details of Vivian Maier’s life are slowly coming to light.  Maier was born in 1926 in New York City and spent much of her childhood in France.  In 1951, she returned to New York and then in 1956 came to Chicago to work as a nanny for a North Shore family.  Maier, who was a very a private person and a bit of a character, always had a Rolleiflex camera around her neck.  Maier was a theater and movie buff; she was also a hoarder and a bit of a recluse, but she wasn’t afraid to walk the street with her camera and engage people.  Maier seems to have been somewhat obsessed with using photography to document the world around her.

Vivian Maier’s work is the purest form of art; none of it was done for any commercial reason.  Her images often focus upon women, children, the old and the poor.  The influences in her pictures appear to range from the works of Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Diane Arbus and Helen Levitt.

Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer and Nanny

Vivian Maier: Reclusive Chicago Street Photographer

Slide Show: Vivian Maier/Chicago’s Reclusive Street Photographer

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