Image of the Week: Vivian Maier’s Street Photography
I came across the intriguing story of a man called John Maloof about a year ago when I was at a photo-film festival and one of the speakers talked about his blog. In 2007 former estate agent Maloof bought a lot of more than 100,000 negatives for $400 at an auction. The film was part of material being sold off from a self-storage company for non-payment of dues. At the time he was doing research for a book on the history of Chicago and thought that the photographs might contain material he could use in his project, but when he began to go through these photographs taken by a then-unknown person, he realised the treasure he had just discovered: among these undeveloped bits of film, were some of the most striking and honest examples of street photography he had ever come across. Legend has it that at some point Maloof came across self-portraits by the photographer – pictures that had been taken of reflections in mirrors and shop windows, and at this point he set off to find out the identity of the photographer who had left behind such beautiful images.
In the years since, Maloof has pieced together more information about this remarkable photographer: her name was Vivian Maier and she was a Frenchwoman who worked in Chicago as a nanny. On her days off from work he reckons, she roamed the streets of the city and with her camera for company, captured everyday moments of life around her. It appears that she never printed the photographs, and if she did, they were not in the lot that Maloof bought. So he started to print, scan and upload them to a blog dedicated to her work. Now, for the first time ever a posthumous exhibition of 80 prints of her work is on display at the Chicago Cultural Center. I’m sure it’s been a real effort for a man like John Maloof who says he didn’t even know what street photography was when he purchased her negatives.
It’s a remarkable story of a remarkable body of work by a photographer whose art is already being compared to the likes of Diane Arbus and Henri Cartier-Bresson. It makes me wonder of all those people out there who take street photographs for the pure pleasure of it and are never recognized, never acknowledged for the work that they do to capture a moment in the past for some unknown person in the future.