In 2007, John Maloof, a real estate salesman in Chicago bought a box of negatives at a furniture auction. The purchase led to the discovery of over 100,000 negatives and hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film taken by an unknown, reclusive street photographer named Vivian Maier.
The thousands of black and white negatives revealed an intimate, personal, almost secret view of life on the streets of Chicago through the 1950s and 60s. A woman on a park bench staring intently at something she’s pulled from her purse; a man in a three piece suit stretched out on his back in the front seat of a car; a dead pigeon nesting in the bottom of a trash can.
“Vivian’s story is very mysterious. It’s still being unraveled.”
Maloof found Vivian’s name written in pencil on a photo lab envelope in the box. He googled her and found an obituary. She had died just days before. Bit by bit he began researching and piecing together the story of Vivian’s life and work.
“She was constantly taking pictures which she never showed anyone,” Maloof told us. For most of her life she worked as a nanny. She was extremely secretive. She was a Socialist, a feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She was firm, blunt, political, and opinionated. In her late year she became homeless.
“She was the real deal. A wonderful photographer,” said photographer Mary Ellen Mark who was recently introduced to Vivian’s work for the first time. “Her work is very decisive She saw very quickly. It’s not easy to see that way. She looked at things that we don’t notice. So much atmosphere. So much about America. There are so few people that know how to shoot like that. It’s sad that we couldn’t share it with her.”
“Vivian Maier represents an extreme instance of posthumous discovery: of someone who exists entirely in terms of what she saw. Not only was she entirely unknown to the photographic world, hardly anyone seemed to know that she even took photographs.” Geoff Dyer
Edited by John Maloff
Foreword by Geoff Dyer
Powerhouse Books Brooklyn, NY 2011