If you’ve never heard of her, Vivian Maier is a posthumously famous photographer whose work was only uncovered when her belongings were sold at a number of auctions shortly before her death in 2009.
Maier was a nanny by day, but spent almost all of her free time taking photographs out on the streets of New York. The result was a body of work that is as stunning as it is vast – Maier left behind a collection of over 100,000 negatives and has come to be regarded as an iconic figure in street photography.
I won’t share any of her work here, because I’m not sure of the copyright implications, but it’s worth having a look through the collections on vivianmaier.com. I’ve struggled to get to grips with street photography in the past – it can be used to describe everything and nothing – and conversations about it often descend into tedious classification or etymology debates. I’ve no time for that.
There are a few things that have made me fall in love with Maier’s work:
- For a supposedly immensely private person, lots of Maier’s photographs very intimate portraits that could only have been possible with some communication with the subject. Whether or not the subject gave permission for the photo to be taken is immaterial, in shots like this one you can see the subject looking directly at Maier as she shot them with her hip-height Rolleiflex TLR. There’s an intensity in this that I don’t see in a lot of street photography.
- Part of the appeal is some kind of nostalgia by proxy. I don’t remember a time when you would see someone on the back of a horse in the middle of a major city like New York, for instance, but the image puts me there. It makes me feel like that’s a fond memory of mine.
- The composition. My god. Portraits, street scenes with amazing natural light, surrealism, travel, all carried off with fantastic composition.
There’s so much to learn from here, and I’m going to try and implement some of those ideas in my own photography, even if it’s just shooting as much as I can.
I’ve had a go at a few Maier-inspired shots on this blog. All photos below (and the header image) are shot on a Fuji X-T10.
I’ve started carrying this camera with me every day and will keep it set to shoot in black and white for the foreseeable future. I’m using a variety of lenses at the moment – Fuji 27mm 2.8, Helios 44-2, Soligor 28mm 2.8 – because using adapted vintage glass and not worrying about images being pin-sharp feel great.