For this week’s photographer feature posts, I wanted to take a look at another one of my favorites: Vivian Maier. I first learned about her while I was going to school and taking a photography history class, and like many others, I quickly fell in love with her and her work. Here is a brief background on her from her website:
Vivian Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was an American street photographer born in New York City. Although born in the U.S., it was in France that Maier spent most of her youth. Maier returned to the U.S. in 1951 where she took up work as a nanny and care-giver for the rest of her life. In her leisure however, Maier had begun to venture into the art of photography. Consistently taking photos over the course of five decades, she would ultimately leave over 100,000 negatives, most of them shot in Chicago and New York City. Vivian would further indulge in her passionate devotion to documenting the world around her through homemade films, recordings and collections, assembling one of the most fascinating windows into American life in the second half of the twentieth century.
100,000 negatives. 100,000. It still amazes me that she took that many photos, without achieving any sort of recognition until after her death. And she was being praised as a one of the masters of documentary photography in my history class, less than five years after she passed. For me, she will always be a photographer who inspires me for several reasons.
1. Just keep shooting
Vivian photographed her surroundings for roughly fifty years. For about fifty years, she shot what interested her, and continued to hone her photography. When you look at her work, you can see how it changes and grows over the years, a growth that can only really be achieved with dedication time. And she never gave up. When I feel down on myself about my own photography, or facing a photographers block, I remind myself of Vivian Maier and her unwavering dedication to her craft.
2. Shoot for yourself
There was no social media or the like when Vivian was actively shooting images. Even if there had been, I doubt that she would have used it. She left over 100,000 negatives, undeveloped, at the time of her death. All these thousands and thousands of images she took, and never showed them to anyone. She photographed what she found interesting, for herself, and herself alone.
I think that says a lot. She fueled her own growth and her own body of work. She shot for herself, and she clearly loved it. And I think that following her passion, keeping it up for all those years, really shows in her work.
3. Reflections and shadows
I love Vivian’s documentary photography of the streets of Chicago and New York. But the images that stick the most in my mind are self portraits taken in a reflection. But not just a mirror. She has many reflections in windows of shops, or in silver plates. And her shadows self portraits, too. I don’t think I really paid much attention to my shadow before I saw her work. I thought of my shadow more as a nuisance, but Maier showed me how it can actually add an interesting element to an image, rather than take away.