Fame and recognition can depend on dumb luck. When John Maloof purchased the contents of an abandoned storage locker he never expected to find a treasure trove of photographs by a completely unknown artist. In spite of her talent, during her own lifetime, Vivian Maier’s work was likely unknown to anyone but the people closest to her.
Her work from the 1950s anticipates work by Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander. There is an affinity to Robert Frank’s work. Similar to Arbus, Maier used a square format camera and captured photos of real people on the street. I have always been a sucker for good street photography. It’s a delight to look through her images.
This shot reminds me of Robert Frank’s work. There is an air of glamour and mystery immersed in an ordinary night. Who is this woman with a while stole and puffy dress walking towards a 1957 Chevy? Why is she alone?
I love how the balloon blocks the face of the man sitting with the baby. Just as the baby yearns to touch the balloon, I yearn to see his face, yet I know I never will.
Maier shot many details of hands and textures. They are visually intriguing and tell a story of a person without showing the person’s face. The geometry of the triangular blanket and the itsy bitsy circle of the watch face play against the circles and rectangles on the woman’s dress.
Maier’s shot of the Sphinx and pyramid interrupted by a horse’s ass is hilarious and ahead of its time. It shows the messiness and absurdity of the real world at a big tourist site. I speculate that she was a nanny on a family trip to Egypt.
She was an on-the-street spy who created surreal images with a camera. Given that the world almost missed Maier’s work, I wonder how many other artistic treasures sit undiscovered amidst the tons of work created by unsung artists.