“A photograph that has not been shared or at least printed, is almost an unexistent photograph, is almost an untaken picture.” —Unknown
The beauty of photography is that it allows us to freeze a moment and study all of the small dramas that were taking place.
And now, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and a wide selection of photography-focused apps, that moment can be shared with the world.
In fact, if you Google ‘street photography’, you’ll find more than 600 million results with millions of images from across the globe. Everyday moments frozen in time.
But while anyone with a smartphone or a digital camera can dabble in ‘street photography’ and share the result on Instagram or Tumblr, there will always be those who take it to another level—which is when it becomes art.
These photographers, including Humans of New York, JR, and Australian Jesse Marlow who ranked 31 in Complex.com’s Top 50 Greatest Street Photographer Right Now, capture the raw emotions displayed by people in public, to tell a story, to share a life.
Another well-known street photographer was Garry Winogrand (14 January 1928, New York City – 19 March 1984) who exposed three rolls of Kodak TRI-X black and white film on the streets of New York City every day for his entire adult life.
That’s 100 pictures a day, 36,500 a year, a million every 30 years.
Winogrand died in 1984, leaving more than 2500 rolls of film exposed but undeveloped, 6500 rolls developed but not proofed, and 3000 rolls proofed but not examined (a total of a third of a million unedited exposures).
Like Winogrand, one of the world’s most accomplished street photographers, Vivian Maier, is no longer alive to see her work capture the imaginations of those lucky enough to view her collection of images.
In fact, Maier’s photographic work remained mostly unknown until a box of her negatives and slides were purchased by a young historical society president, John Maloof, at a storage auction in 2007.
“Maier was an inveterate wanderer and self-taught photographer, favouring a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera, with an uncanny ability to get close to people from all walks of life.” – www.vivianmaier.com
Maloof, who was looking for old photos of the neighbourhood to feature in a book, purchased a box of Maier’s negatives and slides for $400.
With the negatives unsuitable for the book project, Maloof set them aside until he had time to scan them.
What he discovered was that over the course of 40 years, while working as a nanny, Maier took more than 100,000 photographs; with the cities of Chicago and New York and their inhabitants serving as her main muse.
Intrigued by the world Maier had revealed, Maloof soon picked up a camera and began to document the city the way the photographer had.
Within a year he had traded his point and shoot for a Rolleiflex like Vivian had used.
Admitting he had become ‘obsessed’ with Maier’s work, Maloof then set about printing and developing Vivian’s work and made it his mission to re-construct her archive.
Over the course of a year, he managed to save about 90 per cent of her work from the other buyers at the original auction to accumulate a collection of 100,000 to 150,000 negatives, more than 3,000 prints, hundreds of rolls of film, home movies, audio tape interviews, and various other items.
Another collector, Jeff Goldstein, managed to salvage the rest.
Keen to share Maier’s work with the world, Maloof created a blog showing 100 photos of Maier’s work but when nobody visited for months, he posted a discussion on Flickr and the response was overwhelming.
Since then, Maloof has been on a non-stop schedule of archiving, promoting, and preserving Vivian Maier’s work through the Maloof Collection.
And now, thanks to his efforts, critics and galleries have rallied behind Maier’s work, and The New York Times recognised her as “one of America’s more insightful street photographers.”
More recently, Maloof and producer Charlie Siskel have joined forces to bring Maier’s work to the big screen with the documentary, Finding Vivien Maier.
The documentary, which has been selected for the Palm Springs, Berlin, Rio De Janeiro, Miami and Toronto International Film Festivals traces Maier’s history through New York City, France, and Chicago and features interviews from those who knew her, including the families for whom she served as a nanny.
To learn more about Vivian Maier, the Maloof Collection and Finding Vivian Maier, visit www.vivianmaier.com.
Compiled by Brooke Falvey