Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Vivian Maier follow up
December 26, 2010 4:55 AM   Subscribe

An unknown photographer's work comes to light.

Synopsis: a man goes to an estate sale and finds boxes of photos, negatives as well as a wealth of undeveloped rolls of film. He buys some of it thinking that he may be able to use some of the images for a book that he is working on. When he brings it home he discovers that it is part of one person's work. The work is exceptional and the photographer was Vivian Maier, a nanny in Chicago. The man who bought the first box of negatives, John Maloof, then finds the other boxes of negatives that other people bought at the estate sale and buys them. He has about 100,000 negatives currently. Most of these negatives have never been seen before. Many rolls of film are yet undeveloped. He is currently scanning negatives to create a digital archive.

The video is short piece run by WTTW in Chicago. Some of the children that were nannied by Vivian are interviewed as well.

This is a follow up of this post by chunking express.
posted by zerobyproxy (57 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy Christmas.
posted by clarknova at 5:20 AM on December 26, 2010


Awesome. Thanks!
posted by dobbs at 5:39 AM on December 26, 2010


an unknown photographer's work comes to light
a lifetime of images, lovingly crafted
we celebrate visions, unlocked and unveiled
a glimpse of the past, through sands that we've sifted
immortal, immortal, another immortal
has risen from yesterday's shadows, to mark
the distance between where she was, where we are
her voice, a reminder
emerged from the dark
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:43 AM on December 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Hooray! I was shown the original post and I'm excited to see the follow-up. Thank you.
posted by dumdidumdum at 5:58 AM on December 26, 2010


Wow. Those photographs are increadible. This story is amazing.

Also for reasons I cannot explain, this story appears to make me weepy.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:03 AM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank you so much for sharing this. I was weepy too. This woman was a true, passionate artist who developed her own eye and talents without the assistance of the academy. I am inspired and awestruck.
posted by KathyBraid at 6:17 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


This guy completely deserves whatever money he might make from this. It's clear he feels a deep connection with this woman's art.
posted by Corduroy at 6:22 AM on December 26, 2010


What a fantastic find.

Her story brings to mind another great street photographer Garry Winogrand. After his death in 1984 it was discovered that he had left behind over 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film, 6,500 rolls of processed film, 3,000 rolls of contact sheets that evidently hadn't been looked at -- a total of 12,000 rolls, or 432,000 photos Winogrand took but never saw. Some of these images have been exhibited posthumously and published in an exhibit catalog entitled Winogrand, Figments from the Real World, published by MoMA in 2003.

She deserves the same level of attention and accolades for her work of the other great street photographers --- albeit posthumously.
posted by ericb at 6:24 AM on December 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


The superlatives do not exaggerate. Incredible. She's like Robert Frank, Larry Fink, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Helen Levitt rolled into one.
posted by Faze at 6:30 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is cool seeing this get more and more exposure.
posted by chunking express at 6:45 AM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was very into photography maybe 10-15 years back, eventually filling half a good-sized bookshelf with negatives and slides. If I had a free moment, I was shooting, developing in my bathroom (or canning exposed film huddled under a black blanket in the back of the pitch-black, hotter-than-hell hall closet in my first NYC apt), scanning, printing, framing or messing around with Photoshop...if I wasn't somehow working on photos, I was listless and impatient to get back to it.

What strikes me in looking at Vivian's photos (which are amazing, as is this whole story, down to the almost unbelievable googled discovery of her only days after her death) is how much fun merely walking down the street is when you have a camera in your hand and are on the prowl for something at which to point it....I was never so observant before or since, as I petered out several years back. I never replaced it with anything of any quality, just work, too much tv, time wasted online.

I've been meaning to get back to it, and the way I feel after poking through this post as well as the previous one, I might actually finally do it. I could make a decent frame on occasion and I showed a bit here and there - nothing to ever think I'd be remarkable after my death. But man, every moment I spent shooting was a moment I was really, really enjoying myself.

So thanks.
posted by nevercalm at 7:15 AM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


more and more exposure.

No pun intended?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:16 AM on December 26, 2010


What an amazing find and incredible story. Wonderful post.
posted by Qubit at 7:22 AM on December 26, 2010


What a treasure, and the idea that all those negatives
could have been lost, just thrown in the dump.
There is something sad about it all, a sad lost feeling.
posted by quazichimp at 7:30 AM on December 26, 2010


It once was lost, but now it's found.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:31 AM on December 26, 2010


The photos that are shown in the video are pure and beautiful. I do not begrudge the man the money he will make from this; he may not be an artist himself, but his type is just as necessary to the process. He will get a chunk of my money for the book.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:51 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if anyone will bother to go through the 300 or so SD cards I shall leave behind.

I sort of hope not.
posted by spitbull at 8:23 AM on December 26, 2010


Thanks!
posted by New England Cultist at 8:42 AM on December 26, 2010


Reminds me a bit of Disfarmer.

Very cool story. Great link.
posted by photoslob at 8:50 AM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Previous 'Disfarmer' FPP.
posted by ericb at 9:29 AM on December 26, 2010


Fascinating. Seems I missed the exhibition here in Norway, but I'll keep an eye out for the book.
posted by Harald74 at 9:42 AM on December 26, 2010


Oh, this is SO wonderful. As someone who also unearthed some amazing art and historical objects in an old house in Chicago (along with a lot of just interesting stuff or outright junk), when I found this earlier Flickr post from him I could remember feeling that same anxiety so many times, worried and staying up late at night with these ephemeral pieces and trying to figure out how to preserve and protect them. (Still do.) Not hesitating to invest in digital equipment, scanners, memberships to databases, hunched over a keyboard for hours late into the night trying to track down an address, a mark, a name. It's exhilarating, it's exhausting.

There are so many incredible things thrown out carelessly in back alleys and dumpsters every day, it makes me want to cry. The paper, the film, the letters, the art...seeing them blowing past the telephone polls by my garage after a house is sold and flipped makes me ache. In my head I know that we can't save it all, where on earth would we keep it? But I love that digital technology allows some of us to scoop it out of that slowly moving river towards the landfill and shelve it safely in the Internet's collective consciousness, if only for a little longer.

I am so incredibly happy for him that the internet exists and that he had SOME way of showing the world her work. We've also become incredibly emotionally involved with the items that we found and have been pursuing how they are connected to this house for over eight years. Not to benefit financially, but because the mystery and the stories intersecting are just fascinating and compelling to us. And, thanks to the internet (specifically ancestry-type sites), we've been able to make headway on how they are connected and have met some lovely people along the way. Return some items to descendants of previous owners. It's been a blast and one of my favorites reasons why I love the Internet.
posted by jeanmari at 9:43 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fantastic, thank you.
posted by WickedPissah at 9:46 AM on December 26, 2010


thank you so much for this post! My boyfriend works at the Chicago Cultural Center, where the January exhibition will be. I am certainly going to go see it.
posted by Windigo at 9:48 AM on December 26, 2010


Such a joy.

No rapid fire digital, bullshit HDR, Photoshop, and smart-ass filters. To be able produce these images like these apparently spontaneously, with a bulky fixed focal length camera, loaded with an un-negotiable film speed, in tricky public environments is truly remarkable.
posted by marvin at 9:57 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Um, I was the first one to publish Vivian Maier's work. In July of 2008.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:59 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bighappyfunhouse...

Cool! Would you talk about your collection? Are you and John in contact? Background info?

Here is a link to Bighappyfunhouse's blog posts.
posted by zerobyproxy at 10:30 AM on December 26, 2010


Background - I've known John Maloof for many many years. A good friend of his brother. I was at the auction that Vivian's work was being sold. I bought some lots. I don't remember John being there. I think he left an absentee bid. There were 2 heavy hitters fighting over the boxes of negs, I won a few, others bought the majority. I think I got 4 or 5 lots. I'm not sure. I did mange to get a box of undeveloped film.

I posted some of her work on my website bighappyfunhouse.com. This was in July of 2008. It was well received. I got some inquiries from buyers. I think I gave one of her self portraits to Nick Osborn from SquareAmerica.com. He knows the details. A couple of other photos went to collector friends. The rest.. stayed with me.

In early 2009, John and I talked on the phone many times. As he was an old friend, I gave him as much advise as possible. We have emails from early 2009 as well. The emails refer to "Vivian Maier". I think John was just giving a PT Barnum spin to his "googling her name and finding out she died the week before". This really isn't true. We had been emailing her name back and forth months before her obit was published. There was no great search for her name. The puzzle was solved long before. I published it in July of 2008. It would have been top result for that search. Not to mention the emails.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 10:42 AM on December 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


Wait, so she was alive while her work was being passed around? No one talked to her?
posted by cmoj at 11:09 AM on December 26, 2010


cmoj - she was very much alive while her work was being collected. In my searches in 2008, I found nothing on her. After I posted some of her images, I became the #1 hit for a Vivian Maier search. That's what cracks me up about the story being spun by John. Vivian's obit was posted in April of 2009. Now I could see if we didn't know each other and he somehow missed the search.... but we were emailing each other about her work months before she passed. The two of us were trying to find her... and running into dead ends.
_____________________

A little story about Vivian's work. In April of 2009, I met with one of the people who bought some of Vivian's material. I was trying to buy the negatives and prints. We were stuck on price. He wanted more than I could afford. We went back and forth a bit. At one point in the conversation I said "Look, why hold on to this. You could walk out the door and get hit by a car. Just taken the money."

He still said no.

The next day he called me from the hospital. He was riding his bike on North Avenue and got hit by a car. True story.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 11:56 AM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


That changes the story a bit. Wonder if he's going to mention you in the documentary he's trying to fund through Kickstarter, BHFH.
posted by jeanmari at 12:07 PM on December 26, 2010


Also, someone want to update the Wikipedia article on Maier?
posted by jeanmari at 12:12 PM on December 26, 2010


This guy completely deserves whatever money he might make from this. It's clear he feels a deep connection with this woman's art.

I'm afraid this doesn't sit particularly well with me... I suppose it's utopian to hope that somebody might promote the previously unrecognized (though not as unrecognized as Maloof purports) work of a gifted photographer who apparently didn't promote it herself for the sake of the art and only that, but, still, here's a guy spinning money out of another person's lifework. And there's a historicity about this story, too, involving the appropriated work of women, that makes me uneasy.
posted by jokeefe at 12:19 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


This woman was a true, passionate artist who developed her own eye and talents without the assistance of the academy. I am inspired and awestruck.

What exactly is "the academy" in the context of American photography?
posted by bradbane at 12:36 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then it's just that you guys didn't find her until she died? That's extraordinarily unfortunate.

Yeah, knowing about the spin makes this kid's overawed, responsibility-falls-into-his-lap story kinda unsavory.
posted by cmoj at 12:38 PM on December 26, 2010


It's very easy for me to say, as someone with no skin in this game at all apart from as appreciative recipient of free goodness, but the thing is to get the stuff out there and part of the culture again. It's vanishingly rare for a huge chunk of creative work to make the big time and honour to be satisfied all round - and while the disparity between Bighappyfunhouse and Maloof is... well, there's a story there for sure... I hope it won't ripen into something caustic and poisonous.

For those who have a sense of unsatisfied karma, there's still plenty of time. Some of the bits of the story are a little odd - stocks, shares, uncashed cheques? - and it doesn't take a genius to predict that if the affair becomes truly famous, the chance of distant relatives turning up (who else inherited part of that farm?) tends towards unity. Where there's a hit, there's a writ; IP law in this area is very yucky, and I don't even want to think about how it works for repossessed items from an intestate death. This is the stuff that drives ten year cases into the Supremes. So Maloof may yet have a live one by the tail.
posted by Devonian at 1:03 PM on December 26, 2010


I think he left an absentee bid.

He did.
"Michelle Hauser: There is an expression in the auction-buying lexicon that one might say to oneself or to a potential rival to lay claim on a particular lot, 'I am going home with it.' Is that how you felt when you clapped eyes on the cache of over 30,000 photographic negatives and rolls of undeveloped film being sold at auction?

John Maloof: No, actually. I placed an absentee bid and left. I came back toward the end, to find that I had won the box of negatives. I was hoping to get them but my heart was not set on it."
Full interview.
posted by ericb at 1:24 PM on December 26, 2010


VivianMaierPhotography.com.
posted by ericb at 1:28 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chicago Magazine | December 26, 2010: The Life and Work of Street Photographer Vivian Maier.
posted by ericb at 1:38 PM on December 26, 2010


Controversy is the garnish on the plate of a great artist- it provides art reporters and bloggers something to do.

But the important thing is we have a new great artist. One who shows that once again that technology isn't needed for excellent art, just an unsentimental yet discerning eye for setting.

Once again, this is metafilter at it's best. Thank you.
posted by happyroach at 1:44 PM on December 26, 2010


Some of the bits of the story are a little odd - stocks, shares, uncashed cheques?

Devonian -- I seem to have missed that part of the story. Can you point me in the direction to learn more about such details?
posted by ericb at 1:50 PM on December 26, 2010


And there's a historicity about this story, too, involving the appropriated work of women, that makes me uneasy.

How does the fact that Maier was a woman even remotely play into this? Photography has always had renowned female practitioners, and to suggest that Maier died some poor helpless old lady whose life's work is now being exploited solely for financial gain says way more about you then it does about Maloof.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 4:00 PM on December 26, 2010


I dropped John Maloof a note (to the email account tied to his website) and asked him if he wanted to add anything to the thread. Here is his note:

Ron is right, he is the first to post a few of Vivian's images on his blog. He and I go back and yes, he was a part of the discovery as well as several others. Ron, including others, are some of the auction buyers that I purchased lots of her work off of (you can read the thread on (http://www.flickr.com/groups/onthestreet/discuss/72157622552378986/). Ron may still have some work left from what he says. The other buyer that owns and has been promoting her work is Jeff Goldtein (www.vivianmaierphotography.com), who, I think, purchased some prints from Ron and many negatives from the guy that was hit by a car on his bike.

Regarding the 'Google search' bit, no spin on my end. This is the first lead in my search for more about Vivian. I called the Tribune after I found the obit and they gave me a dead phone number and an address that wasn't even legit. I later found that the nanny'd family she worked for had placed it for her.

I think it's great to have this exposure for Vivian. Thanks to everyone for the support! From my experience, the "art world" is not really as excited over this find as one may think so I feel it's important to promote Vivian to get her recognized as one of the greats.
posted by zerobyproxy at 4:26 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


But the important thing is we have a new great artist. One who shows that once again that technology isn't needed for excellent art, just an unsentimental yet discerning eye for setting.

Well, a camera is, you know, technology.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:01 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, I haven't heard of Vivian Maier until now but what I've seen so far of her work is beautiful. I am defiantly going to make it down to the Cultural Center to check out the exhibit. Thanks for this post.
posted by MrBobaFett at 5:20 PM on December 26, 2010


What exactly is "the academy" in the context of American photography?

this kind of photography was pretty much outsider from the start - until about the 60's when you had moma start to pick it up.

I think maybe it would be a project that could benefit from some outside funding, support and curation.

things this are not so great while things like this are killer. oh an this and this are lovely too......
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:59 PM on December 26, 2010


From Johns website - "I found her name written with pencil on a photo-lab envelope. I decided to 'Google' her about a year after I purchased these only to find her obituary placed the day before my search. She passed only a couple of days before my inquiry on her."

If this isn't "spin"....
I'm going to start watching Fox News on a regular basis.

Don't get me wrong. I'm very very happy that Vivian is getting the exposure she is. When I first posted her work in 2008, I told everyone how great I thought her photos were. It's really wonderful stuff. And yes, I still have a ton of her work. Luckily, I managed to get many many of her original prints. The more her work is promoted, the more it benefits me in the long run. Never sink the ship you're riding on.

I'm looking back at emails from John. He's asking advice, how blog posts sound, the discovery of the heirs (yes they were found), asking how his site looks. Also, an insane amount of phone calls. I'm just not some guy who was at the auction. I helped John in many ways. It was never acknowledged. (Well, I take that back. It was acknowledged on the flickr thread referenced above but it was edited out some months ago.)

I was the one to discover Vivian Maier and post her work 8 months before anyone else.
That is a fact.

If this was posted anywhere else on the web I doubt I would have responded. I've been silent about my involvement in the Vivian Maier story up until now. Metafilter is one of my favorite places on the net.... a second home. I signed up for an account here in 2004. I lurk much more than I post. When I saw this post... I felt this was the best place for the story to come out.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 6:03 PM on December 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


I am unclear on how she became separated from her collection? It would seem that this was pretty important to her. If her work was being sold while she was alive, was she the one selling it? I'd love to know the circumstances.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:08 PM on December 26, 2010


It's a great story, Maier to my eye was a gifted photographer and artist. I'm really glad to get the first-hand bits from Bighappyfunhouse.

I love street photography and as an amateur I know how difficult it can be to come up with something remarkable; so Vivian's work is a real inspiration. I think the volume of her work is part of the formula of being a good photographer.

Thank you, zerobyproxy, for the post!
posted by rmmcclay at 8:31 PM on December 26, 2010


How does the fact that Maier was a woman even remotely play into this? Photography has always had renowned female practitioners, and to suggest that Maier died some poor helpless old lady whose life's work is now being exploited solely for financial gain says way more about you then it does about Maloof.

Possibly. But I made a reference to the historically documented appropriation of womens' work (which covers a great deal of things, from science to the fine arts, and not just photography). It just sets up unfortunate associations for me, seeing this posthumous pitch for fame and fortune orchestrated by a man who didn't even know her.
posted by jokeefe at 9:10 PM on December 26, 2010


Her fine eye for detail and composition is just exquisite.
posted by wherever, whatever at 2:01 AM on December 27, 2010


John Maloof will, in all probability, have access to what was the last photo Vivian Maier ever took, as well. I find that very interesting. I can't wait to see her work at the Cultural Center in Chicago - which starts the first week of January 7th, I think. Imagine the subsequent shows, when all of her work is finally developed.
posted by marimeko at 4:57 PM on December 27, 2010


As a photographer, I love this; I'm happy to see that her work is getting the recognition it deserves, yet sad that she never received those accolades while still with us.

If there is an afterlife, I hope she's smiling.
posted by bwg at 4:16 AM on January 2, 2011


There's a nice slide show of her work over at the nytimes site today. View it full screen for best effect.
posted by DarkForest at 6:31 AM on January 7, 2011


A digest of the controverted discovery and publication of Vivian Maier's work is at Gaper's Block.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:09 AM on January 7, 2011


Went to the opening tonight. It was lovely. A lot more photos from abroad than I thought. A few hundred people in attndance.
posted by zerobyproxy at 4:24 PM on January 7, 2011


So one thing that baffles me that I haven't seen addressed *anywhere*: How can John Maloof or anyone else publish these photographs and profit from them (he originally wanted to use them in a book about the neighborhood), if he doesn't own the copyright? How was he expecting to get the copyright on a bunch of photos that he buys at an estate sale?

Physical possession of the negatives doesn't automatically give you copyright. Who and where are the heirs of her estate?
posted by Rusalka at 11:12 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


« Older Whether you're buying gifts or returning gifts; a ...  |  A dude eats nothing but Christ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments