Vivian Maier documented New York's folkloric beauty like no other
While the photographer is widely known for her black-and-white imagery, her colour work, currently on display at Foam, Amsterdam, is just as exquisite.
Chicago, 1975 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.
If you want to be a good street photographer, you have to possess certain qualities: a keen eye for detail, light and composition, impeccable timing, curiosity and, most importantly, a ferocious hunger to capture everything you see, at all times. Vivian Maier had all of these attributes and produced stunning work as a result. However, the photographer (who passed away in 2009 in New York) worked full-time as a children's nanny to over 40 different families and never seemingly felt compelled to share the images with anyone else. Her work ended up stored in boxes, unappreciated, until two years before death, when some of her negatives were auctioned off and later published to Flickr. Her work quickly began to receive the recognition it deserved.
While Vivian’s best known for her compelling black-and-white imagery, she's also produced a smaller amount of in colour that is a bit more playful and 'tongue-in-cheek' than her other work. Take, for example, her shot of a postcard reading the words “Here's a real eye opener" inside a plastic bag laying discarded on the floor. Now, a selection of sixty of those photographs, taken in the period between 1956 – 1986, are currently on display in Foam, Amsterdam.
Vivian began taking snapshots around 1950 and continued to do so all the way into the late 1990s, leaving behind over 100,000 negatives. She spent her free time roaming the streets of Chicago and New York, documenting its colourful folklore: elderly folk congregating, women in Sunday hats wrapped up in overcoats on their way to church, balloon vendors, workers emerging from the subway... each image revealing a keen eye for capturing both the beauty and absurdity of the mundane. As she began to experiment with colour film, however, her work gradually took on a more abstract character.
It's thanks to the efforts of American collector John Maloof, a champion of Vivian's work from the moment he discovered it, that this photography went from unseen to appearing in galleries across the world, discussed in the same breath as legends like Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt 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 to be seen.
It is a real shame Vivian Maier cannot voice the intentions behind her vast body of work anymore, and that the images have to speak for themselves. While it certainly has contributed to the cloud of mystery that surrounds her, it is odd, and even more so sad, to think that she never deemed her work worthy enough to be viewed by the public. For those yet to experience it, Foam's exhibition Vivian Maier - Works In Color presents an opportunity to gather more insight into the mind of one of the 20th century’s most elusive artists.
'Vivian Maier - Works In Color' is on display until 13 September 2020. Visit Foam for more information.