gb Vivian Maier, Thanks for keeping it alive, part two

This translation from Spanish (original text) to English is not professional. I have done it with Google, so there will be linguistic errors that I ask you to know how to hide. Many times I have been asked to read my texts in English, and that is why I decided to do it. In addition to your patience, if you see something that I can correct, and wish to notify me of it, I will be happy to do so. In the meantime, with its lights and shadows, here are the lines that I have written. Hugo Kliczkowski Juritz

His life

The story of Vivian Maier is an unprecedented story, as unusual as it is unexpected.

A photographic legacy that hides an exciting and secret history.

We have mentioned that she worked as a nanny for more than four decades, and in her free time she created a parallel and secret reality in which she took thousands of photographs, recorded urban sounds and filmed in Super 8 and 16 mm; and she did all three things with a mastery and absolute modernity not common in someone who can be considered an amateur photographer.

He managed to open a fascinating window into everyday life in public spaces. She accumulated more than 2,000 rolls of undeveloped film, 5,000 printed photographs and more than 120,000 negatives that, apart from her, practically no one else looked at during her life.

When a large part of his assets, as well as all of his photographic production, were deposited in a furniture storage room, and were subsequently seized and sold, John Maloof (1981) entered the scene, a young student who was looking for photos to document a work that was doing about his neighborhood.

He acquired them at a small auction in Chicago.

Maloof discarded the photographs for this purpose, but revealed a portion of them for the purpose of selling them on the internet.

Allan Sekula (1951 – 2013), a well-known American artist of Polish origin, photographer, writer, filmmaker, photography theorist and critic, contacted him to warn him that those photos were loaded with great talent.

But who was behind the camera?

Maloof’s investigations led him to find out that the author of the snapshots was Vivian Maier, a mysterious woman who had lived between Chicago and New York.

Maier’s legacy has become an extraordinary surprise for experts, who were amazed by photographs endowed with a modernity and quality unusual for the years and circumstances in which they were produced.

These singularities have led Vivian Maier to be compared with masters of the stature of Diane Arbus (1923 – 1972), Robert Frank (1924 – 2019), William Klein (1926 – 2022) or Garry Winogrand (1928 – 1984).

The dramatic thing about this story is that Maier never knew that her secret passion would take her out of anonymity until she became an enigmatic and fascinating figure.

Now we can admire his work, since his photos are the testimony of his contemplation of the world, that «something» furtive from the mind of this mysterious person of whom it seems that there will always remain unknowns.

The impact that Vivian Maier has generated in the world of photography has taken her work to the best galleries in the world and to be published in many books about her work.

Maloof directed the 2013 film “Finding Vivian Maier,” which was nominated for an Oscar in 2014 for “Best Documentary Feature.” Thanks to the investigations and interviews carried out by John Maloof after the photographer’s death.

«For all the meals have been cooked, the plates and cups washed; the children sent to school and thrown out into the world. Nothing remains of all this; everything disappears. No biography, no history, has a word to say about it». A Room of One’s Own, 1929. Virginia Woolf

A walk through her life The work of Vivian Maier (New York, 1926 – Chicago, 2009) tells us a lot about her life, although there are still numerous shadows about her biography.

In 1951, at the age of 25, Maier emigrated permanently to the United States, first to New York and in 1956 to Chicago. Given his precarious economic situation, the Gensburg family, for whom he had worked for almost 17 years, provided him with an apartment to live in until he died in 2009 in complete anonymity. The exhibition begins in the 1950s, the date of emigration to the United States.

The exhibition

It is divided into 6 sections: Childhood, Portraits, Formalisms, Street Scenes, Self-portraits and Color Photographs.

1 Childhood

Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection. Courtesy of the Howard Greenberg Gallery of NY

1955. San Francisco

For Maier, the act of photographing was his way of relating to people. He fixed his gaze on the world, evoking the poetics of daydreams, typical of the child’s world.

This section shows the degree of empathy that Maier had with the children. Childhood is a vitally important constant in his work.

Under this theme we see photographs in which children are the protagonists; whether it be images of children posing individually, playing in a group or staring into the camera.

A multitude of photographs of children accompanied by adults stand out, which suggests that Maier was attracted to photographically studying the bond that existed between the two.

The children she cared for accompanied her on her wanderings, on the long walks through which she discovered thousands of places, people, stories and secrets. Their children also became their models, pretexts to carry out skits, portraits, stories, games…

2 Portraits

This section mainly concentrates a wide variety of photographs of women, the elderly and the homeless. These images are a testimony to his curiosity about everyday life and the traits of the people who caught his attention. While some photographs are obviously snapshots taken secretly, others are the result of a real encounter between Maier as a photographer and her models, who are photographed from the front and at a short distance.

1959. Kochi, India.VM1959W04098-13-MC

It is in the portraits where Maier gets closer to the other. It is appropriate to make a distinction between the portraits of people who belonged to the lower classes – with whom she herself could identify – and the portraits of people with an apparently comfortable life.

1959. 27 de junio. Asia. VM1959W02455-11-MC
1957. Florida. VM1957W02584-04-MC

When observing the portraits of these people, who lived on the margins of the world – with whom Maier felt partly identified – one gets the feeling that they abandon themselves to the image, to photography. They don’t smile, they don’t try to achieve anything with their image beyond simply describing who they are. Simplicity, confusion, austerity and closeness are very present in this genre. Something unusual should be noted in this series of portraits; In some of them, Maier prints his face on those of the people he is photographing. This peculiarity means that his portraits also represent his own person and, ultimately, they can be considered, in addition to portraits, as self-portraits.

Although in the series of popular portraits he reinforces his protagonists by taking these snapshots while respecting a certain distance, in the case of the portraits of upper-class individuals, Maier literally pushes them, or purposely bumps into them, causing them to make a somewhat negative, a reaction that he takes advantage of and captures with a certain irony.

An important part of his portraits feature vagabonds, people abandoned to their fate for whom he felt compassion.

Untitled, c.1950 © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Cortesía Galería Howard Greenberg de NY

New York Public Library, New York, c. 1952 © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Cortesía de la Galería Howard Greenberg de NY

Sometimes she errs on the side of being nosy and “assaults”, in a somewhat impolite way, the private sphere of these people. If we quickly associate the work of Garry Winogrand with the concept of aggressiveness and that of Robert Frank with social criticism, in the field of portraits, we could associate the work of Vivian Maier with daring.

3 Formalisms

It includes a selection of images whose importance lies in the formal features of the elements that appear in the photographs. It perfectly defines Maier’s obsession not so much with the image itself but with the act of photographing. He took images of people, the street, objects, landscapes… Sometimes, it seems that he conceived what he photographed only from a formal point of view, without worrying about the discourse or content of the photographs.

Two of the aspects for which Maier’s work is best recognized are the framing and balance in his photographs; most of them taken head-on, with a certain pragmatism.

The balance lies in the tensions generated by the large axes of the frame, in the arrangement of lines, shapes and volumes, elements to which urban scenes usually lend themselves. He also attaches great importance to what remains “next to” the anecdote, to geometric structures, to the graphic rhythms of architecture, to its textures.

Most of them are images of elements close to the anecdote, whether structures, shapes or geometries, which make up a kind of visual minimalism. We appreciate photographs with a very synthetic description, with large axes that delimit the space. A multitude of lines, shapes and volumes that announce the disappearance of the figure.

These images are the preamble to his color work that began in the sixties.

Sin fecha. VM19XXW00508-12-MC
1953. Nueva York, NY. VM1953W00060-07-MC
1954. Nueva York, NY.VM1954W00009-07-MC
1956. Chicago

4 Escenas de Calle

1954. 8 de octubre. Nueva York, NY

Another very interesting section, and the most extensive in the exhibition, is called Street Scenes, which includes some of his memorable photographs of the architecture and urban life of New York and Chicago, especially from the 50s and 60s, especially from its most popular neighborhoods.

Although he did not have a limited field of action, he took numerous images of the streets of NY and Chicago, especially in their most popular neighborhoods.

The street was his theater and his images a pretext.

1954. NY.

With his snapshots he extracted the beauty of the ordinary, searching in everyday life for those almost invisible cracks through which he accessed “his world”.

Unknown people, anonymous people, were part of that world. Maier lined up in space with those people; He was looking for his ideal place and his optimal angle.

What he measured with his camera was not the light, it was his distance from the other. “Distance” is the key word in his work.

1950. NY.
1962. Chicago.

It is important to highlight this because it constitutes the basis of their modus operandi. Maier’s relationship with the people who appear in his photographs was inevitably forged through the lens of his camera.

1956. Setiembre. Mujer Armenia discutiendo en el
East 86th Street

In most of the images that are part of this section, their attention is focused on the “other.” This becomes for an instant the main actor – or secondary, as the case may be – of micro events. In his street scenes he did not enter the scene he photographed; He stayed at its threshold, at the limit. Neither too close to interfere, nor too far to be invisible. He simply photographed what he saw; I wasn’t trying to capture anything exceptional, just the little things, the truly important things in the definition of each person or situation: a detail, a gesture, an attitude, an inflection in reality transformed into an anecdote.


5 Self-portraits

Sin fecha. Autorretrato.

It is perhaps one of the most recognizable facets of his work.

Self-portraits marked his photographic career. She did an infinite number of them, as many as there were possibilities of discovering who she herself was; something that was proposed with a certain insistence and apparent obsession. This is why this subgenre has its own section within the exhibition (Self-portraits) in which we observe his surprising ability to take advantage of reflections and elements that he found in his daily life to create fantastic compositions in which he incorporated his figure.

Often, in his self-portraits, Maier shied away from simple visual confrontation in favor of a lost, confused look, interrupted by a reflection that distorted his image.

On other occasions, we observe how the profile of his shadow spreads on the ground like a puddle of water and, on other occasions, his face bounces on something and escapes, deviating from the path, from the frame of the image. Here we find a contradiction – or personal struggle – between the concept of escaping and finding oneself, as we have mentioned previously. In any case, and apparently, what she was looking for was to find her place in the world, as she herself expresses in one of the sounds she recorded.

6 color photographs

1977. Noviembre. Chicago.
1959. Chicago

Finally, the Color Photographs section includes the most recent photographs of the artist. Starting in 1965, Maier began to address color photography. This move to color is accompanied by a technical change, since he begins to work with a Leica, much lighter and with the viewfinder located at eye level, very important differences compared to the Rolleiflex that he had used until then. This change reinforces your eye contact with the people you photograph. In this section it is the color spectrum that captures Maier’s attention. Chromatic experimentation is the undisputed protagonist in this section. Explore the characteristics of chromatic language with a certain lightness, developing your own lexicon. He emphasizes the garish details, fixes his gaze on the variegated dissonances of fashion and plays with contrasts. The result is unique, free and even playful images. In them you can see how he has fun with reality through his camera.

In addition to the extremely varied selection of photographs, distributed among the six sections of the exhibition, 9 films in Super8 are included, made between 1965 and 1973.

Through this material you can see how it establishes a very playful and relaxed relationship with the environment, ignoring any technicality. In those films, we see how he moves away, gets closer, surrounds something that his intuition and perception led him to see, until he stops, frames it, and that’s when he makes the decision to capture that specific image. His camera recorded the movement of his eyes, rather than the content it focused on.

Maier’s ability to capture the right frame at the exact moment, with elements of lighting, movement and essence aligned, is revealed in the notable fact that he rarely took more than one image of the same moment in time.

“Why have you never shown anyone your work? Do you agree with what I’m doing?” John Maloof, discoverer of Vivian Maier material. Interview for Lomography Magazine, 2011.

The third part continues at

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