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the lesser-known colour photography of vivian maier

Get a first look at a new show opening in London later this month, examining the late Vivian Maier's work in colour.

by Ryan White
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12 July 2019, 11:59am

Self-Portrait, Chicago, June 1976 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Vivian Maier, the iconic street photographer and selfie pioneer, spent almost all her life unrecognised for her talent. A nanny to over 40 different families, she took photographs as a hobby, spending her free days pacing the streets of Chicago and New York and shooting the different characters she crossed paths with, often stopping to shoot herself in the reflection of glass-walled buildings and public bathroom mirrors. It wasn’t until her negatives were discovered by a collector in 2007 and a small section were published to Flickr that the world then learnt of her talent for capturing a simple, charming vignette of urban life. Two years later, aged 83, she passed away.

Today her work is exhibited across the world and discussed in the same breath as legends like Diane Arbus, Elliott Erwitt and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Yet, with over 150,000 of her images left undeveloped at the time of her passing, so much of her work remains unseen. A new show -- Vivian Maier: Colour Photographs -- coming to London's Huxley-Parlour gallery at the end of July, is the latest opportunity to gather more insight into the mind of one of the 20th century’s most elusive artists. As the name suggests, the work distinguishes itself from her most recognisable imagery, which was primarily shot in black-and-white. Dating from the 1960s to the 1980s in New York and Chicago, the scenes remain largely the same; subtle moments that would go unnoticed if it weren’t for Vivian’s ability to capture the glimmers of absurdity amongst all the normality.

A tiny glimpse of the artist in a small mirrored square laid across a bouquet of flowers, a stack of newspapers reporting a burglary on the front page juxtaposed with a woman’s elaborately printed dress stood next to them, a postcard with the words “HERE’S A REAL EYE OPENER" inside a plastic bag laying discarded on the floor… With every image published of Vivian’s, the question of what her true intentions were, what her personality was, why she so comprehensively documented the world around her in silence becomes more and more intriguing. The colours create a new dimension to her work, but the feeling when staring into the eyes of her anonymous subjects remains the same. It often feels like a cheap shot to take aim at a culture accustomed to sharing imagery to social media, yet you can’t help but wonder if Vivian was perhaps the last of a generation to create such an expansive body of work simply to process the world around her without the inclination to promote it.

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Self-Portrait, Chicagoland, October 1975 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
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Self-Portrait, 1961 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
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North Shore Chicago, July 1967 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
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North Shore Chicago, July 1967 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
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Chicago, April 1977 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
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Untitled, c. 1977 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
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Untitled, c. 1977 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
Vivian-Maier
Chicago 1977 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Vivian Maier: Colour Photographs is open 31 July – 14 September 2019 at Huxley-Parlour Gallery, London.