When Vivian Maier slipped on ice in 2008, a fall that eventually led to her death in a Chicago nursing home, her afterlife was already under way. Raised in the U.S. and France, Maier made her way through life as an eccentric nanny (she liked to wear men’s shoes and always arrived at new positions with dozens of boxes), and when she died at the age of 83, a fond family she’d worked for placed an obituary in the paper. It was noticed by John Maloof, a real estate agent who was looking for her because of what he’d found in an old box he bought at an auction house several years before.
As it happens, on her days off, Maier took photographs. Mostly they were of street life in Chicago, although she traveled around the world. And as it happens, she was very good. She kept her negatives and many undeveloped rolls of film in those boxes, which ended up in a storage locker and then, when she fell behind on payments, at the auction house. Maloof bought a box in 2007, hoping it might contain images of old houses. The more he looked, the more impressed he became. He began posting her images online and searched for her in vain until Google turned up her death notice.
In January a retrospective of some of the tens of thousands of photographs Maier took opened at the Chicago Cultural Center. A book will be released in the fall, and Maloof and a friend have raised $85,000 for a documentary. Maier lived to see none of this. But then, the way she practiced her craft suggests she was more interested in looking than in being looked at.
Powerhouse books is scheduled to release Vivian Maier: Street photographer a monograph of Maier’s photographs, edited by Maloof, in December of 2011.
—Belinda Luscombe. Produced by Natalie Matutschovsky.
More of Maier’s work can be found here.