Vivian Maier is one of the most surprising and intriguing street photographers of the 20th century. A new exhibition in Barcelona celebrates her. WGSN’s Maria Sylvia Llamozas reports
If you asked me, I would say Vivian Maier is one of the most surprising and intriguing street photographers of the 20th century. I used to teach street style photography at IED Barcelona design school and although Vivian Maier is not very well-known I always made a point to mention her in my classes, as she remains a huge reference for me in terms of documentary style, street photography.
Her story is really fascinating, because while she is now remembered as an established American street/documentary photographer (and the recent death of Bill Cunningham has brought once again attention to this kind of photography), in her lifetime, she worked as a nanny and was never recognised as a photographer although she took over 150,000 photos in her spare time. Her negatives were discovered by luck around 2007. And now, thankfully there is a fantastic new exhibition about her in a gallery in Barcelona.
On display at the Fundación Foto Colectania, Barcelona, ‘Vivian Maier: In Her Own Hand’ is a must-see exhibition. You get to see the magic of her photography and her unique eye, up close. She inspired me a lot because unlike other photographers she was not doing it for the fame or money but a genuine interest in photography, plus her style could be playful (incorporating reflections), playing with legs and different angles.
Unlike street style photographers like Diane Arbus or Gary Winogrand, Maier’s work was never acknowledged in her lifetime. She worked as a nanny in Chicago and New York and was described by some of the children as tough and cruel. However, her work allowed her to make ends meet and to go out on long walks where she would work on her true passion and obsession: photography.
During the 50’s and 60’s she focused on black and white photos, her weapon of choice was a Rolleiflex, a camera operated at chest level, allowing her to maintain eye contact without getting noticed, hence most of her strongest and most memorable shots feature people staring straight at her. She would later move into colour photography during the 70’s with a Leica camera.
John Maloof stumbled into her work after buying some of her abandoned possessions in an auction, since as a compulsive hoarder many things surrounded her. He managed to find the identity of the author of these amazing negatives a few days after Maier had passed away. In the documentary: “Finding Vivian Maier” Maloof describes his journey on discovering who this amazing photographer was, and interviewing the people she spent her life with. She secretly took over 120,000 photographs some of which had never been developed. Her work is just as passionate as discovering the secret and mysterious life she lived.
She remains a huge inspiration for me, and if you have time to check out this exhibition, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. Her work is currently being exhibited in Spain in Barcelona in Foto Colectania Gallery until September 10th and in Madrid until August 16th. in Fundacion Canal.
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