Vivian Maier

20 August 2021
For the whole world, Vivian Maier was just an ordinary nanny and housekeeper from Chicago. Her talent as a photographer was recognized only after her death in 2009. The discovery of her work has become one of the most significant events in the world of modern photography.
Maier spent most of her life roaming around the streets of Chicago with a Rolleiflex camera and creating truly amazing photographs. Vivian did not receive a dime for her photography work, yet it is impossible to call her an amateur. She did not show her photographs to anyone, no one even knew about her hobby. At the same time, she left behind an archive of wonderful photos which can be used for lectures on the life, fashion, traditions and culture of that time.
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Vivian Dorothy Maier was born in 1926 in the family of Austrian Charles Maier and Frenchwoman Marie Josso and spent most of her childhood in New York. Vivian moved from France to the United States multiple times. Maier's parents' marriage wasn't happy so they divorced a year after her birth.

In 1956, at the age of 30, she found a nanny job and dedicated the next 40 years of her life to it, she worked 14 years in one family she has worked for. Among those are wealthy families of Ginzburg and Raymond.
Well-known American TV host Phil Donahue, whose children were also raised by Vivian, remembers how when he first met her he called her "Miss", and she answered strictly:

"Miss Maier, please. And I'm proud of it".

Vivian's passion was not limited only with photography, she was seriously interested in documentary genre. Maier was sympathising those whose life was hard. Walking around the city, she recorded video and audio clips with the poor she met in the streets. The result of these materials also is highly professional.

Keeping her photography job in top secret, Vivian developed the film pictures in her bathroom and was collecting the negatives into special boxes. This archive was rapidly expanding over time and all those boxes were moving with Vivian to her new work place. One of her employers once said he counted that the new governess brought with her as much as 200 such boxes.
For the whole life, Vivian was never married and had no children, still she knew the taste of motherhood: working as a nanny for more than 40 years she has brought up many children being a kind of a mother to them. Children have always considered Maier to be a good friend with a drop of curiosity and an irresistible passion for adventures.
It is noteworthy that the photographs taken by Vivian reflect her liberal ideology and her preferences. We see an image with an incident or an object on it but we are free to make a conclusion of what had happened ourselves. That is why all her works are so different. They are, however, united by elegance and inside energy. Not only she was meticulous herself, she also managed to make everyone else meticulous as well; her photographs, even the simplest ones, always make you look into them carefully.
"Well, I suppose nothing is meant to last forever. We have to make room for other people. It's a wheel. You get on, you have to go to the end and then somebody has the same opportunity to go to the end and so on."
— Vivian Maier

During 1959 and 1960 Vivian travelled a lot, she visited Thailand, Egypt, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan and other countries. And in every city she was taking lots of amazing photographs.
In the 80s hard times have come to Vivian's life: she had issues with paying for housing as she could hardly make both ends meet. At some point, Maier practically became homeless, but then one of the families she had worked for found her a small one-room apartment in a good area. Those children who were brought up by Vivian helped her with paying for the rent and food.

In 2008, in downtown Chicago Vivian slipped on ice and fell, banging her head.
Doctors kept their fingers crossed for a speedy recovery, but Maier's health became only worse. As there was no one who would look after her she ended up in a nursing home. Soon after, in 2009, she died at the age of 83.
Vivian Dorothy Maier spent her whole life in obscurity and died, unaware that
just two years later the whole world would talk about her.!
How Vivian Maier became known to the world
In her last years, when Vivian was experiencing financial difficulties and could not pay her rent regularly, the landlord put up the boxes of Vivian's works at auction and immediately found a buyer. It was 26 years old John Maloof, a real estate agent. In 2007 he purchased over 100,000 negatives for only $380.


"I was one of the few buyers at that auction. I googled 'Vivian Maier', but the search did not come up with anything. In 2009, when I came across an envelope with her name in one of the boxes I decided to search for information about her once again. I found the obituary of her death, published just a few days earlier! Vivian Maier has become my life since then"— John Maloof.


When John realized the potential value of the discovered pictures, he began promoting them in galleries, museums and photo hosting sites. The first exhibition of Vivian Maier's works took place in 2011 in Chicago, for which Maloof printed more than 80 photographs of Maier.
John Maloof also invested in the documentary movie based on Maier's life called "Finding Vivian Maier." It was so successful that was nominated for Oscar and BAFTA awards.
When Vivian Maier was discovered, her photography work was put on a par with the greatest photographers of the 20th century. Today, her works are officially recognized as a public domain.
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