Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer

by Jane Bohnsack

A chance purchase at a 2007 auction led then 26-year-old  John Maloof to the recent discovery of the previously unknown, and highly talented Chicago street photographer, Vivian Maier.  John Maloof, a Chicago real-estate agent, purchased a box containing 400 of Maier’s negatives.  Although originally uncertain as to the expanse and artistic value of the photographs, Maloof quickly realized the importance of his find. He decided to reach out to the woman whose name he only recently discovered. But Maier had passed away just three days prior to Maloof’s search. Maloof has continued to purchase and print Maier’s work though, to critical acclaim. Little is known about Maier, a private woman, described as magical by the Chicago north suburban children for whom she nannied.  Adults  who knew her only in passing describe her as intensely private. Maloof continues to compile her work  hoping  to share it with as large an audience as possible.

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The breadth of Maier’s photography has only just begun to be understood. With nearly 100,000 neatly organized negatives, Maloof and friend, Anthony Rydzon, continue to scan and organize Maier’s work. Maloof also owns hundreds of yet to be developed rolls of Maier’s film. Additionally, another collection of Maier’s work, housed by Jeff Goldstein, includes nearly 12,000 negatives, 700 prints, and 20 homemade movies. Maier’s work encompasses the fifty plus years she lived in the U.S.  Her work is intimate and evocative, the viewer at times uncertain if Maier asked permission, or simply snapped shots of the people she passed on the street. The range of people, eras, and cities so finely documented, if previously unknown, establishes her as a street photographer of note and popular intrigue.

In the past few years, Maier’s work has quickly earned critical acclaim, beginning with hundreds of comments on Maloof’s blog,  with showings around the world. Work has already begun on the creation of both a book and documentary film about Maier’s private life and work. The Chicago Cultural Center will also be hosting a free exhibition of Maier’s work, “Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer.” The exhibition runs  from Jan 8, 2011 – Apr 3, 2011. To learn more about Vivian Maier’s life and photography, as well as John Maloof’s journey of discovering her work, visit his blog, “Vivan Maier – Her Discovered Work.” Jeff Goldstein’s collection can be found at Vivian Maier Photography.

Additional information and news can be read at:

New York Times

Chicago Magazine

Chicago  Tribune

Chicago Sun-Times