“One of photography’s truths is that the best street photographers learn to be invisible or, at the very least, to convince themselves that they are,” writes Joel Meyerowitz, in his foreword to the largest collection of the photographer’s full-colour photographs to be published to date, Vivian Maier: The Color Work
Since its discovery in 2009, Vivian Maier’s work – and her life – has attracted global attention. It been exhibited all over the world, featured in mainstream media outlets, and circulated in multiple books and films. Even so, many details of the American street photographer’s life remains a mystery.
We know that she worked as a nanny for 40 years in Chicago, and that she liked to spend time walking the streets, taking photographs with her Rolleiflex camera – with and without the children she was looking after. We also know that Maier took more than 150,000 photographs, many of which remain unseen, mostly of the people and architecture in Chicago, New York and LA, but also of herself, and her young charges.
In 2007, two years before she died, Maier was forced to sell her work in an auction to keep up with her rent. Three photo collectors, Ron Slattery, John Maloof, and Randy Prow, bought parts of her archive. Her images were first published a year later when Slattery uploaded a selection to his online blog, but at that point they received little attention. In 2009, curious as to who this photographer was, John Maloof Googled Maier’s name and found a death notice in the Chicago Tribune. He then posted a selection of her photographs on the image-sharing site Flickr, and this time they went viral.
Until now it’s been Maier’s black-and-white photography that’s attracted attention but, as a new book by Harper Collins shows, she was also an adept colour photographer. Unfortunately part of the mystery about Maier and her work is that we have no way of knowing how she would have edited it – something that, as Colin Westerbeck writes in his introduction to Vivian Maier: The Color Work, limits our ability to judge her as an artist. But, as he adds, it also gives us an advantage in that it compels us to look deeper at the images we do have. “It gives us our only chance to pose all of those questions we never got to ask her,” he states.
www.vivianmaier.com Vivian Maier: The Color Work is is the largest collection of Maier’s full-colour photographs to be published to date. It is published by Harper Design, priced £60 www.harpercollins.com
Read our article on Vivian Maier’s journey from obscurity to photographic history here: https://www.bjp-online.com/2018/11/vivian-maier-secret-photographer/