A Woman to Know: Vivian Maier

I knew she was talented but it's astonishing what she made of it. Who could have imaged she could have left so much behind? — Linda Matthews

(image via Smithsonian)


Vivian Maier worked for 40 years as a nanny in Chicago, with photography as her "hobby." She'd leave work and shoot street scenes, black-and-white images of shoppers, buildings and even self-portraits captured in windows and mirrors. She hoarded boxes of newspapers, notebooks and her negatives, banning her charges from stepping close to the room where she kept her camera. "It was like walking through a valley of newspapers," one child remembered. She died in 2009, alone and bankrupt, without ever having published her work or even shown her photographers to friends and family.

In 2007, when Vivian was auctioning off belongings to pay for her rent in a storage locker, collector John Maloof discovered a trove of Vivian's negatives, remnants of her life on the streets of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. He fell in love with Vivian's images and their interesting view on ordinary American life, but he couldn't find any trace of her until her small obituary published in 2009. Soon other collectors began fighting for the unpublished negatives, discovering more than 150,000 unpublished photos. Today, Vivian's work is exhibited in galleries around the world, and experts count her among the great street photographers of the 21st century.

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