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Wednesday, 07 May 2014


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Interesting question and one I've pondered myself, considering there haven't been any of the original Vivian Maier prints exhibited, or much talked about. When you consider this along side Ansel's musical analogy it's no wonder the "Art World" at large are having a little trouble accepting (legitimizing?) Maier's body of work. When we consider the decisions made in editing and printing is a large part of what constitutes the photographer's art, is it really truly her work after all?

Another interesting side comment the author aluded to was the possibility that photographic art made the traditional way (with film and silver paper) here in this post digital era, might begin to take on some new value in the eyes of art collectors. The further we reach for meaning in the world of digitally created art, the more scarce (and possibly more valuable?) becomes the original silver or alt process prints for their own sake.

Well, at least it's a nice thought for us antiquated and tenacious B&W film photographers.

Art looks like the Disfarmer print by Peter Miller that hangs on my wall. One of my most cherished possessions, a gift from Peter. It speaks to me on many levels - the mystery of Disfarmer, the gratitude we owe Peter for the work he did to save and expose this work, and a touchstone of my Ozarks heritage.

Sorry but I see it as a windy meditation on what makes photography, among the visual arts, unique: latency.

Thanks for the link to a really interesting article Mike. Part of the attraction of Maier is that she was (and is now going to remain) an enigma. Most of us can produce one striking image in a lifetime, but she seems to have produced a significant number, in a style which is recognisably her own. That makes her an artist as far as I'm concerned. We also have to remember that the concept of "artist" is a relatively recent invention. I doubt that Shakespeare was overly concerned with being an artist, he was probably more concerned with putting food on the table and the success of his next play. The question of interpretation is not confined to photography, English Literature springs to mind also. Either way I'm glad that Maier's work didn't end dumped in landfill!

A great article, thanks for sharing. The Art world is a very fickle place, especially when Photographic imagery (prints and now Digital images) is concerned. Most of us (Photographers) dream of fame, create great works unto ourselves and pass on into time and obscurity along with our works. I forget who said the following phrase that probably explains the fine art world the best "As an artist I capture what I see and pleases me, The viewer excepts it and calls it Art".

Thanks for the link Mike - I enjoyed the column very much.

This is an interesting topic where art and commerce are inextricably linked and things can get messy. A few years ago, I bought a used book of photographs by Tony Ray Jones, an excellent English photographer who died too young. A local gallery was selling posthumous prints made from TRJ negatives under the auspices of the family. I'm not sure who was doing the actual printing, but the gallery was selling these prints for around $10,000.

I want online and found that I could order a print made from negative scans owned by a British museum. They sent me a very nicely done print on archival cotton rag paper for $150. It now hangs on my wall and gives me great pleasure.

Neither the $150 print nor the $10,000 print were made by the artist. The latter print was made using a more traditional dark room printing method and looked more authentic. However, I found it tough to justify paying such a significant premium based on certification by the estate.

I'm all for keeping an artist's work alive by issuing reprints made from the original negative, but not at the same price as prints made by the artist.

I read it and I still don't understand why the prints of Maier's work don't get hung in the best museums. Is art about the finished product or someone's definition of the correct process? If it's the finished product, then Maier's work contains some of the best street photos taken in the 20th century.

If one of the "anointed" in the art world had discovered Maier's negatives instead of Maloof the acceptance of her work would have been a given.

I saw John Maloof's "Finding Vivian Maier" a week ago. An excellent film, highly recommended! The conclusion I reached is that Maloof's and Maier are together a single artist.

The circumstances of the negatives being discovered and saved are miraculous. And that the person who did so had the energy, skill, and talent to bring them to the attention of the public is another miracle.

Vivian Maier did not have it within herself to be a professional artist, to deal with galleries, contracts, shows, critics, etc. if she had been discovered during her lifetime it would have ruined her. John Maloof's on the other hand is the man for all of that. The price he will pay is that although he is obviously a talented young filmmaker, he will always be known as "That Vivian Maier guy."

Thank you John Maloof's.

Is there a reason not to include a link to Google to save people the cut and paste?


"an attitude that was old-fashioned by the 1960s and is even more so now in the digital era.”

I disagree. Opening a RAW file is an interpretive act. The file is the score, the resulting image is the symphony. Most photographers consciously interpret their images, rather than sticking with the standard interpretation offered by Adobe or whoever makes their image processing software.

"Photographers who do everything themselves, as Adams commonly did, are not necessarily more vital than those who are not so hands-on."

Being able to manipulate your own images is a valuable skill for a photographer, not a meaningless one as the author suggests.

"The image long ago outstripped the print in social importance for everyone except photography collectors. The digital future should only enhance Maier's reputation.”

Images are more important now, but making an image from Maier’s negatives is an interpretive act. The conductor has the same effect on the score with digital images as with prints.

Photography is art and science. Making prints is also art and science. The art may be the same, or very similar, but the science is completely different. Only very few photographers are master printers who can do justice to their photographs. Ansel Adams was clearly one. Jeanloup Sieff. Maybe Gene Smith. There are a few others. Not to forget Ctein.
Sinister thought. Maybe the current owner of Maier legacy wants to keep (hoard?) the original prints and only release them to the market when the myth has risen to its full height, along with the prices of the prints?

The Vivian Maier story is sensational in part because of the mystery and the discovery. A professional printer may add the finale to it all, the finale that Maier did not complete, whether from lack of interest or intent; we'll never really know, and that sits okay with me.

The best way this could be handled would put the entire archive under the auspices of the Library of Congress, make all the images free and publicly owned, and provide high-res scans for free. Ala what Shorpy uses for it's source material. Then anyone can make prints as they might desire. Maybe LoC could even have traditional silver prints made and sold at cost. Sadly, none of that will happen and the carpetbagger profiteering will continue.

William stated that Maier was incapable of editing her own work. I wonder. Editing implies judgment and selection for a purpose. But I haven't seen anything to indicate that she ever said why she took pictures. Most I think, would assume she took them for her own pleasure and use. I have seen no indication that she ever intended publication as a book, or intended to have gallery or museum shows. Nor do we know what or how much -if anything- she discarded or destroyed. In this case, all we can do is evaluate each image on its own, in terms of what WE consider 'good art',which is a broad, changeable and inconsistent set of criteria. The images must stand on their own.

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