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Tuesday, 28 December 2010


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I don't know how you feel about us linking to other people's blogs in your comments, so if this is un-kosher please feel free to not approve the comment.

Portland photographer Blake Andrews posted about her pictures on his blog, "B," and in the comments there comprise an interesting (especially to a lay person such as myself) conversation. Mr Maloof even chimes in some including talking a little about his experiences curating Ms. Maier's work.

Wow... just... wow.

Thanks Mike, what a gem

Some of the images in the video piece are truly breathtaking. How can someone with such talent be so completely unknown during her lifetime? She kept someone very busy developing all that film.

I do envy you that trip! Dying to see the prints... The scope of Mr. Maloof's find is almost immeasurable- a true American art icon, unknown and unheralded throughout her lifetime. And already you have some critics downplaying her contribution as if they were not invited to the HS graduation party of the week. How can those so well credentialed insist on being so petty minded?

I've just been amazed at how the number of truly substantive images by Ms. Maier have been accumulating on Mr. Maloof's blog. This is major league work that so adeptly transcends the detail of her time period into the universality of the human experience. I can't wait to see the documentary, and If I purchase only one book in 2011- it'll be Vivian Maier's.

Wow. Amazing story. Amazing photographer.

Should be a fantastic show for sure. Here is a link to a big chunk of her work that John has been putting online. http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/

John is also trying to raise awareness and MONEY for a documentary film.

What a treasure.

Wow! First I've heard about this. Bring the bus down my way and I'd be happy to join you on this field trip!!


This story is very similiar to the Montana based photographer, Evelyn Cameron, who photographed cowboys, sheep, eagles, etc. in frontier eastern Montana around the 1900s. Cameron's work was discovered by Time-Life editor Donna Lucy. Cameron is the subject of a PBS documentary, Evelyn Cameron: Pictures From A Worthy Life available on DVD and two books.

Amazing..... It makes you wonder how many other "finds" are hidden away in attics and basements. Just think, take 1000's and 1000's of images yet basically keep them all to yourself.
After seeing a few of her images on that video I think we are going to hear Vivian Maier's name mentioned equally with others like Walker Evans.

Fabulous! I hope somebody has urged him to protect those unprocessed films better than he is....

Thank you for the link. Great story and great photos.

Only one word-WOW. Growing up in the Chicago area-these ore the real thing. Yes, i will see the show-certainly many times.
richard Rodgers



I first sent you a link to Vivian Maier's story some two years ago. It probably got lost in the hundreds of messages that you undoubtedly receive each day. I am happy to see the story percolate to the surface now. Her photographs took my breath away when I fist saw them. They echo with that same unassuming genius that Helen Levitt possessed.

Very interesting and heart warming for a talent to be found. Unfortunately she died just a few days ago though.

Cannot stop myself,

a) for 100k photos, you cannot use V700. A minilab 2nd hand scanner (for medium format) or a dark room is much faster. It will take ages for V700.

b) what is the copyright issue here. The guys just bought the box with the negative. I recalled during the Uncle NOT Ansel thing, it seemed you can have the negative but not the right to publish the photos (even though the lady might nor mind to have her photos out, especially her family cannot deal with those negatives and just auction it out). Wonder.

I'm deeply moved. Pure genius. Thank you so much for posting this.

Vivian Maier died in April 2009.


When I see work like that....when I see work like that. There is sometimes a nagging little voice in my head that wants me to take all my cameras down the street and dump them in the sound. Envy can be a suprising and unwanted visitor.

A non-photographer friend sent me the link to the Maier video yesterday and, as a Rolleiphile, I swooned when I saw the square self-portraits with camera. The pictures themselves seem to be truly outstanding and I would love to get to Chicago to see the show. Listening to Maloof speak, he really seems like the right person to own this amazing collection.
At the point in the video where Mr. Maloof shows off some of Maier's equipment, he pulls a gray model T Rollei out of the box, and I swooned again. The world's most elegant camera, I think; I used to own one.

What lovely work.

Somebody needs to help the fine Mr. Maloof get a pro lab on those negatives.


As a Chicago photographer I've been following the Vivian Maier story from the earliest date that John Maloof made it public, perhaps in 2008. She was unquestionably a very talented candid photographer, in my opinion a basic visual talent at least equal to a Robert Frank. This lady was a real eye.

Posted by: Ian Meissner: "Amazing..... It makes you wonder how many other "finds" are hidden away in attics and basements."

There are many, many "undiscovered" photographic talents particularly from pre-Internet generations. Consider my 2009 piece on Gary Stochl. If it wasn't for someone finally goading Gary into showing his work to someone he, too, would probably only be discovered in some future junk shop sale. (BTW, several of Gary's images are currently on display as part of the Art Institute of Chicago's "Chicago Cabinet" exhibit.)

You want another story? How about Lee Balterman, now represented by Stephen Daiter Gallery and also a Chicagoan. His is also a fine story of late discovery. And I want to tell you that his images viewed in person are simply wonderful.

The fact (probably) is that most of the finest photographic talent is largely or utterly ignored, either by oversight or by design.

For the timing, what I talk about is that when the guy finally get to the lady, she has just passed away a few days ago (said the video as he finally got her name and search it in the net and got instead the ob). That is one of the sad moment, as no matter how not her intention, it would make a day if someone phoned up and tell how he appreciate them.

Thanks, Mike. Great story, and I love her photos. I think I need to find a way to get to Chicago for the exhibit.

And not to be too presumptuous, but a Maier TOP print offer would be really, really cool.

I was just going to say "wow," and nothing more, but the second post already said it. I'll just say it again: WOW! They are quite amazing, from what we can see of it in the video clip.

Bravo! Bravo! Absolutely facinating.

John Robison: What? My reaction is the opposite: Photos like this make me want to take more!

Remarkable story. I look forward to its continual unfolding. Regarding comparisons to Abbott and Atget, however, there are some noteworthy distinctions, which may or may not impact the eventual course of this tale. I have no doubt Mike is exceptionally well versed in in all of this, but others perhaps not as much.

First and most obviously, Abbott was (at the time of her connection to Atget) an accomplished photographer, with a keen eye and growing understanding of photography in a broader context. Having seen Atget prints that were owned by Man Ray (under whom Abbott learned and assisted), and having later visited and photographed Atget before he died, she also was familiar with some of Atget's work. She in fact promoted it during Atget's lifetime. She further relied on her expert printing skills to reveal significantly more from the negative archive she acquired after his death.

Maloof, on the other hand, seems to be learning as he goes. Perhaps he also has a keen eye, and is relying on other opinions as well (such as the show's curator), but we'll see how this goes. The Maier trove is significantly larger than than the one Abbott took over. Maloof also may or may not possess great scanning skills, but no doubt lacks the sophisticated equipment that could do the negatives more justice. And, what about his process to generate prints? (I'll be interested to read feedback on the exhibition's print quality, apart from the certainly more relevant print content.)

The jury is of course still out on Maier's place in photography. I only hope that Maloof's initial lack of photographic skills, and photographic connections, compared to Abbott's doesn't do a disservice, in either timing or outcome, to the Maier story. Even Abbott had the good sense to eventually turn the work over to MOMA.

Excellent article Mike. I look forward to your report of the show. Please take your K-5 and bring back some pics.

How about letting us know when you are going to visit the Cultural Center? Maybe a little informal T.O.P. meetup and Vivian Maier appreciation tour? Could mean a free lunch.

Beautiful and very moving, all of it. Thank you for posting.

Minor correction: I believe Blake Andrews (of the blog B) now lives in Eugene.


--------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Farhiz Karanjawala
Date: Mon, Oct 12, 2009 at 6:11 PM
Subject: Something I came across
To: [email protected]

Hi Mike

I came across something I thought you may like. John Maloof posted this link (http://www.flickr.com/groups/onthestreet/discuss/72157622552378986/) in a group on street photography. Recently he bought at auction the work of a photographer Vivian Maier, who had passed away in April 2009. She was born French but had lived in Chigago for the last fifty years. It appears she had no close relatives surviving her. Maloof bought 40,000 rolls at the auction. Mostly shot in the 50s-70s (every roll is labeled in French). It's seems quite a story, Maloof is still doing some research on her. This is the link to his blogspot: http://www.vivianmaier.blogspot.com/.


All you tireless bloggers, forum posters, self promoters: any lessons that you took away from this story?

What Stan B. said, times two.

I lucked across Maloof's blog early on, to my immense delight. The reaction of several "professional" art curators and critics to this remarkable work has confirmed is consistent with some of my bleaker suspicions about that incestuous little world.

I wonder what her life could have been if her talent was discovered sooner. We will never know of course, but somehow I feel sorry for her....but alas it seems that our society wastes talent even more then it wastes all other resources. John Maloof can make all the money he wants with these photos, in my opinion, he earned the right to do so by showing them to the world, just by recognizing the talent of Miss Maier in a way she apparently couldn't do herself while she was alive.

Thanks for this Mike. I have spent a few hours now reading up on this remarkable story and would echo what is said above about taking my equipment down the street and dumping it. It isn't just the talent, it is also the dedication.

The shot 2.48 sec in to the video (she's wearing a pinstripe suit) could be a Cindy Sherman self portrait.

I just hope a publisher & editor that are passionate about her work gets it in to book form. That she dies unknown and with all that unseen work is sad, but it also reminds you that doing something for its own sake can be a beautiful thing

I had some serious goosebumps watching that video, the feeling that I was seeing true genius revealed. I find myself filled with admiration, as well, considering how most photographers will do anything to get their work seen and reveling in the imagined glory, yet Vivian seemed to be all about the photography, all about just being an artist. It just seems right to me, how it should be.

And how fortunate it was that her work fell into the hands of John Maloof. It doesn't seem as if it could have worked out any better.

I was able to spot some of the books that belonged to Vivian Maier in the video:

Classic Photographs
John Loengard

Taken by Design - Photographs from the Institute of Design
University Of Chicago Press

Helluva town
New York City in the 1940s and 1950s
photographs by Vivian Cherry

Photography - a cultural History
by Mary Warner Marien

Steve Schapiro
American Edge

Life photographers
Their careers and favorite pictures
Stanley Rayfield

Berenice Abbott
American Photographer

Strangers and friends
Thomas Struth

Colorado: A Photographic Journey
by Bill Harris

Gita Lenz

Cecil Beaton

"Street Photography" can be rather an aggressive activity, it's practitioners holding a rangefinder (at best) or a DSLR to their eye and being literally "in one's face". But, a TLR at chest level, a measured approach to composition in the (reversed image) viewfinder, now that seems much more civilised. For this lady to have made over 100,000 exposures in this way and to have produced such wonderful images not only has she displayed awesome talent but has likely re-juvenated the market for elderly TLR's... Thanks for the link, Mike, and I await a UK exhibition of these fine photos. And a happy and healthy New Year to all TOP folk.

her images can be seen here: http://www.google.com/images?q=vivian+maier&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=tWsbTZy9MIH_8AbZpdmJDg&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=3&ved=0CDYQsAQwAg&biw=1530&bih=986

I think I'll have to make a trip to Chicago to see the show. Like John Robinson above, I wonder if I will still have any camera gear. Vivian's work seems to be incredible. If Mr. Maloof had only been able to track her identity down about 6 months sooner...

Thank you for posting the link.

I have been reading about Vivian Maier for days. Truly one of the most fascinating stories about a photographer I have seen in many years.

Great stuff. Some of her work has strong whiffs of Harry Callahan, who also worked in Chicago for quite a while, and some of Maloof's own work reminds me of Gary Stochl.

That story sent a chill up my spine, Mike. What a discovery, and so fortunate that it was made by someone with sufficient insight to recognise it as significant, the means to buy it and the determination to deal with it. Otherwise, the collection may have just ended up at the tip. I appreciated John Maloof's admission of how, in the quiet moments, the scope of the task in front of him has made him anxious.

Then there are so many unanswered questions, of who was Vivien Maier, how or why had she produced such a body of obviously wonderful photography over many years without, at some time or place, presenting it publicly. Did she shy away from all publicity or did she simply not have the financial means or the connections or, perhaps, merely the encouragement from like-minded people to do so? Did she not "hang out" at all with other like-minded photographers, or have they simply pre-deceased her?

And of course, the story reminds us of the ever-decreasing timespan of our own opportunities in life.

Thank you for presenting this story. Eager to hear of your visit to the exhibition in person.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Seeing that the project was started a couple of years ago, I wondered why Mike J. hadn't featured it on his site earlier - what with all his connections to photographers and knowledge of photography - but I see that at least two commenters had sent info to him. Oh well, we're all caught up now!

Mr. Maloof has done a terrific job editing the photographs and posting them to his blog. Sure, he could have a better scanner, but he's doing it with his own money and the scans are plenty good for the web. Besides, who says he can't have a museum make better scans in the future. (I'm sure the museum exhibit will have well-printed photographs on the walls.)

It's such a treat to see what has unfolded so far. Posting the photographs to the web will practically guarantee that Vivian Maier's photographs will not be "hidden from view" by art curators who don't consider her a "proper" artistic photographer. The photographs on Maloof's blog are a good example of what is right with the internet. Not just the photographs themselves, but the fact that they are accessible to anyone with an internet hookup.

Best of luck to Mr. Maloof and a million thanks to Miss Maier.

I watched the Chicago Tonight video very intently to see if I could find anything interesting in the footage.

Video link: http://www.wttw.com/chicagotonight/video/A1hO97qcWo7ViDL_rWniVH2LakYxNa7J

To me the most interesting frame was at 5:26 when they show some of the books Vivian had in her collection as mentioned in the post by Wieland Willker.

The one I found most interesting was the monograph of Gita Lenz who also had sort of a similar story of the discovery of her work, which in this case was discovered by an industry insider. Here is a quick synopsis about Gita Lenz on Aline Smithson's blog Lenscratch:


I find it very intriguing that Vivian was so interested in Gita's work and perhaps her story.

I also think that she was fairly aware of the work of her contemporaries. Not knowing the exact dates when these photos may have been taken, I see certain similarities in this photo by Vivian Maier...


... with this photo by Harry Callahan:


The more I read about Maier, the more it seems to me that her straightforward, no-BS personality probably had a lot to do both with her exceptional photographic skills and her inability to get anyone to appreciate it. If Maier had been interested in self-promotion, something she obviously disdained, I'd guess she wouldn't have been able to make many of the photographs she did. If it was a choice, I think she made the right one; she wasn't in it for the fame, she was doing what she loved, right til the end. Kudos to her, I say.

A true miracle, and what lovely work indeed. Thank you, Vivian Maier,
thank you, John Maloof, and thank you, Mike.
Set me to think about twin lens reflexes also. As David Lonsdale says in his comment, a TLR is much more civilised. We photographers often call ourselves 'shooters' (unrightly so, as we are not shooting anything at our subjects, we are only pointing at the object we want to receive the photons of on highly sensitive material - but that is another matter), and often our victims will feel shot at indeed - given the gun like appearance of many DSLRs. Quite unlike a TLR. And Vivian Maier was a tall woman, so her chest-held Rolleiflex didn't end up to low.
I also wonder, if Ms. Maier did so seldomly print her negatives, do we have a clue on how they should be cropped (upright, oblong - or square)? The square images of TLRs are not a result of compositional choice, but necessitated by the horizontal position of the viewfinder. The large negative easily allows cropping at a later stage. And although many of her photographs are obviously intended to remain square, not all of them are - I think. But does anyone know, and who decides?
A last thought. From her photographs, her work with children and her way of life, it appears to me she was very good at being present in the here-and-now - the perfect place for a photographer at all times.

Breathtaking and such an amazing piece to see. Got proper shivers seeing this!

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