Vivian Maie It was perhaps fate that allowed a young man of 26 to discover something he wasn’t even looking for. In 2007, John Maloof went to an auction house in search of old photographs of Chicago to use in his work. Amidst the big piles of dusty boxes at the warehouse, one caught his attention and this was the one he decided to take home. Inside it was filled with photographs from the 50’s and 60’s along with numerous negatives. After a closer inspection, Maloof found none of the box’s content was of any use to his project.
However, these photographs had a certain charm; their composition and perspective captivated him and led him to scavenge through more boxes to find the identity of this mysterious artist.
In the meantime, Maloof also uploaded some of these photographs online and received more interest in them than he had expected. After years of searching amidst the thousands of photographs, Maloof stumbled upon a name that might have belonged to the photographer.
He tried to Google it only to find an elderly woman named Vivian Maier who had passed away only a few days previous. Digging for more clues in the various boxes he had acquired, Maloof came across the name and address of a family named the Gensburgs. To his surprise, Maloof discovered that the woman behind these photographs was none other than a simple nanny to this family.
To the Gensburg family, Vivian Maier was a very kind nanny but at times an unbelievably strict one. Everyone who knew her knew how much she loved taking pictures and knew she never went anywhere without her Rolleiflex. The photographs she took were of various subjects including people of different ages, social status, the buildings and houses of her time and even a picture of a trash can. In some instances she would take self- portraits.
Maier was tall and dressed in oversized coats, that reminds one of Mary Poppins not only because she also took care of children. The difference with her and the real Poppins was that nannying was only her way of making a living. Her true passion was photography. There was even a time when she gave up being a nanny to travel the world to take pictures and financed herself through selling a piece of land she had received as an inheritance.
She passed away due to a fall from which she never fully recovered. Maier passed away quietly in a retirement home, leaving behind a lot of boxes. She once told one of her employers that her entire life was in those boxes. It was only after Maloof discovered those boxes that Vivian Maier’s great works were brought to life through the documentary film, “Finding Vivian Maier”. Today the photographs of Vivian Maier are well recognized and exhibited worldwide.