Imagine you’re at a swap meet. Or a garage sale. Or an estate auction.

You see a box of negatives for sale. They are of the city, people, places, beaches. Do you purchase the box out of curiosity, or do you move onto something a little less dusty?

Faced with this situation, John Maloof chose to purchase these many boxes of negatives and when sorting through them, discovered a nearly unbelievable treasure. Once he realized the scope of the work, he began to research the photographer behind the images. Vivian Maier was a nanny in the suburbs of Chicago who for years she would leave her home to photograph in the streets of the city. She left behind over 100,000 negatives, most of them medium format, along with thousands of prints and boxes of undeveloped rolls of film. To print and process her work, she had converted her bathroom into a darkroom – participating in a long tradition of diy darkroom artistry. Her work is, simply put, stunning.




Had her work not been found by someone who could appreciate it, it’s quite easy to imagine those boxes heading straight for the dump. And we would have been denied the work of a true master of the medium. Sadly, Ms. Maier died shortly before her work was found and began to get the international attention she very much deserves. I find her story deeply moving, her work inspiring, and hope you do as well.

John Maloof’s blog on her work is here.

Kickstarter, where you can support a documentary on Vivian Maier’s work and pre-order a copy of the DVD as well as a forthcoming book of her photography.

A flickr discussion on the topic, with his initial request for help in what to do with these materials.

Nytimes lensblog coverage of this story.

An exhibition of her work is currently up at the Chicago Cultural Center. I’m trying to think of ways to get there and see it in person!

One Response to Vivian Maier, Incredible Street Photography

  1. Nick Botto says:

    You don’t do anything 100,000+ times without getting damned good at it. It must have been her life, apart from her job – the only way she could have possibly financed such an undertaking was by devoting every last penny to it. Nowdays you can buy a $400 camera that will take 100,000 exposures with no added expense (okay, charging and hard drive space but you can easily fit 100,000 images on a terabyte or two). But ask anyone who works in film how quickly the costs add up. You have to be good because each click can be measured in the fractional price of a roll or box of film.

    Big name artists might pull off stunning photography, but after you’re famous it’s easy to finance (presumably). No great, famous photographer that I’ve ever heard of financed their entire career by taking care of kids. Beyond just her mastery of the medium is her ultimate dedication to her passion.

    In addition to a documentary on her work, I’d like to see a film consisting of nothing but still images of her work, every one you could possibly cram into it, one after another in hopefully chronological order. Imagine what a head trip it would be burning through 100,000 images in a sitting. It would take an a hour and a half to display them at 24 frames per second, one image per frame. Commercially it would be worthless but as an experience it would be overwhelming.

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