Not perhaps since Emily Dickinson’s poetry came to light over a century ago, has a posthumously discovered body of artistic work stirred the kind of critical praise and public delight that is currently being heaped on the photographs of Vivian Maier.
International gallery and museum showings, glowing press reviews, books and a documentary — “Finding Vivian Maier,” nominated for an Academy Award this year — are among the responses the work has inspired. All of it completely unexpected.
Over the course of five decades, Maier, a life-long nanny to some of Chicago’s well-heeled families, quietly shot some 150,000 photographs (in addition to a catalog of home movies) on the city’s streets, in its parks and neighborhoods — in addition to hundreds more photographs she took in New York and other locations in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
But no one ever knew that. She seemed never to have told anyone or to have shown her work to others. Nor did anyone, it seems, ever stumbled upon them.
Not, that is, until 2007, when John Maloof, a Chicago real estate agent, purchased a box of negatives and undeveloped film in an auction at a storage unit facility that was selling the contents of lockers on which the leaseholders had fallen into arrears. Maloof was hoping that some of the images might be used in a book he was writing about the history of his neighborhood. He paid roughly $400 for the box.
Though his purchase did not bring the help for his book he’d hoped it might, he did, over the coming weeks, months and eventually years, begin to recognize that he had come across something of potentially wider artistic (and, of course, commercial) appeal.
Her photos — images of city street scenes from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, neighborhood characters, moments of glamour and high-life and life’s down-on-its-luck moments — are gaining ever-wider public attention and acclaim, both here and abroad.
But that could change. Maloof has recently found himself locked in a legal battle over the photos’ copyrights. Legal experts expect the ongoing litigation to be lengthy, having the potential to tie up any further releases from the Maier archive — possibly for years.
In the meantime, see more of Vivian Maier’s photo’s below.
And tune in to tonight’s broadcast of the PBS NewsHour to see chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with the two directors behind the Oscar-nominated documentary “Finding Vivian Maier,” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel. You can watch on our Ustream channel at 6 p.m. EST or check your local listings.