Anonymity and a kind of invisibility are the headlines that could mark the leap into the history of Vivian Maier. If we add to this the pleasure of the mere fact of capturing moments through her camera, without excessively importing the result, we find the figure of an artist who draws her way of working through observation and procedure, without looking for specific patterns, just experimenting and observing in a curious way a beauty that she consciously knew surrounded her daily. Even so, most of her work was not even revealed, and was left in a warehouse.
Vivian Maier‘s (1926-2009) life was not particularly simple: The precariousness in her family and, later, in her work, the constant changes… She never had much time or the means to dedicate herself to anything other than subsistence, first in Paris and then in New York, working mainly as a nanny. Vivian had lived with her mother for a few months Jeanne J. Bertrand, a French artist who seemed to instill in her the pleasure of capturing the cosmos through the lens.
Pioneer at street level
Street photography is marked by naturalness and the snapshot of precise moments in the daily life of big cities. An anonymous gaze that rests on an unrepeatable instant, freezes it and extracts a beauty that, by haste or disinterest, perhaps would have gone unnoticed and would have vanished in a few thousandths of a second. It is possible that images of a New York of the 1960s where at a glance social differences become apparent come to mind, and names like Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Klein or Walker Evans appear in big bold when talking about this field.
However, Vivian would have already walked the streets of New York before they portrayed them. She had captured moments of a city where machismo, class difference and racial segregation left their mark on the daily lives of pedestrians, and daily situations attracted the attention of the photographer who, with her particular invisibility, tried to capture stories as anonymous as her own.
A Leika camera hung around her neck as she walked the streets, Maier satiated her curiosity instantly, capturing one photograph after another. The price of the products used, and that in rare occasions had a useful place for this use, made the developing of the images taken difficult and very selective. Although most of her photographs remained on reels that she would never see developed, she never stopped pressing the trigger, producing a work more marked by intentionality than by the technical result.
The research led Vivian into the world of video as well, telling everyday, if surprising, stories such as the one built thanks to Super8 about a murdered mother and child. She also entered the world of self-portrait, generating what we would now know as selfie, playing with reflections and transparencies, forming herself part of the stories she told, as one more character, eternal and vanished.
Memories for oblivion
Actuating a camera’s trigger means that the moment we find ourselves becomes a frozen microcosm, an unalterable world captured through an audacious set of mirrors. And after that, another; and another; and another… Memories -because, given the presence of the photographer, they are always memories- stored waiting to be visited again, collected in small albums or extensive books. A kind of Diogenes Syndrome of moments loaded with emotions, beauty or affection.
It seems poetic that Maier’s work fell into oblivion, to emerge again as if his figure had become one of the passers-by he portrayed, and who have now been left inside this mausoleum for posterity; as if his life were part of any story, especially, any typical day.