This is epic: a Chicago real estate developer purchased at auction, sight unseen, a box of 100,000 photo negatives by an unknown photographer for less than $400. He started developing and printing them, and realized he had the work of one of the best (and most prolific) street photographers of the 20th century, Vivian Maier.
Who the hell is Vivian Maier? Exactly. She mostly worked as a nanny and, according to everyone who knew, her was an intensely private person. She never showed any of her photos to anyone, and her closest friends had no idea she even took photos.
Look, no one becomes a photographer for the money, unless you want to take photos of tastefully-lit tubes of toothpaste for the rest of your life. (By which I mean, work in advertising, until your love of the medium is as dead as your soul.) And most people don't anticipate they're going to be as famous as Diane Arbus or Henri Cartier-Bresson. You do it because you can't imagine not doing it. If I died tomorrow, I would be content to know that I put things into the world that wouldn't have been there without me.
But this woman never showed her photos to anyone. That blows my mind, because I love to share my work, and I think that's pretty common across all artistic media. Not because you want people to flatter and admire you, but because humans are social creatures; when you make something it's only natural to go "Look what I made!"
And she never even had them printed for herself, which leaves me wondering what her motivation was. Was it just, as the writer of the article suggests, about "her curiosity, her love for her city and the thrill of taking a picture"? Was her privacy actually a shyness or a fear/dislike of intimacy, and did the camera allow her to observe her world while also keeping it at arm's length? Or was it the opposite, did the camera allow her to get closer to her subjects because she had a reason to? (It seems like people used to be much more accepting of a stranger rolling up on them with a camera. Now everyone's paranoid their image will be Photoshopped and mocked on the internet.)
I guess we'll never know, because Vivian Maier died in 2009. Everyone who knows her says it's probably for the best, because she would have absolutely hated the attention. Whatever her reasons for keeping her photos from the world, I'm glad we're seeing them now.
The man who bought the negatives decided, naturally, to make a documentary: Finding Vivian Maier, due out sometime this year.
Link to the full article.
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