Research point : Vivian Maier

Explore the Vivian Maier website and identify five street photographs that show clear surrealist elements.

Vivian Maier , 1926-2009 , New York

American born Maier spent her early years in France before returning to the States . Employed as a nanny in New York 1951 her photography was a private endeavour undertaken simply for herself . She additionally made amateur  audio and Super 8 movie documentary recordings. Initially using a Kodak Brownie she graduated to a square format Rolleiflex , eventually moving to colour film and 35mm SLR’s.

Moving to Chicago in 1956 she had her own darkroom within the family home , where she worked and lived , and was therefore able to process her own B&W contact sheets . Whilst being aware that she was a keen photographer the children she looked after , and frequently photographed , and their parents were never shown her work so had no knowledge of her remarkable talent. Inevitably the children she cared for grew up , her occupation meant she moved around hence she had no real permanent base and needed somewhere to store her rapidly growing collection .

Maier used a rented storage locker to store her photography work along with clippings , books, and other bits and pieces she collected and kept. The collection included around 100, 000 negatives , 700 rolls of undeveloped film , audio and home movie recordings. Unable to keep up the rental due to financial difficulties the contents of her locker were sold at auction in 2007 . John Maloof , an estate agent , was one of the buyers who , enthralled by what he discovered , started to print some of her B&W images and began his quest to get Vivian Maier the recognition he rightly felt her work deserved.

She was an intensely private and eccentric person and I find it intiguing to consider what drove her to keep taking photographs whilst not wanting , or believing , they would ever be publicly shared . The collection is fascinating and eclectic , Chicago and New York’s streets and their inhabitants , frequently the marginalised , were captured at close range by this remarkable and enigmatic woman.

An interesting article was published in the Guardian earlier this year. Sixty-six year old Robert Glaser , interviewed by Erica Buist , discusses his reaction on discovering a photograph of his eight year old self taken by Vivian Maier whilst looking through an on-line gallery.
Article below.

Amongst the vast collection of images on the website of street life , children , and self-portraits there are many that show surrealist elements.

1. Her self-portraits are fascinating and there were many that I consider to have a surreal quality. The reclusive photographer turns the camera on herself but still retains her mystery.

Vivian Maier .


2. Nude mannequins and reflections are favoured surrealist subjects.

3. Bizarre and intriguing, an upside-down man , a child with one shoe and a ‘glamour’ girl all in the same frame.

4. Lines , shadows and light , an everyday scene transformed into something intangible.

5. The body-less feet and small doll in the top right hand corner of the shop window make this a rather strange image.

References / Bibliography

Buist, E. (2015) That’s me in the picture . The Guardian Weekend
Accessed 8/4/2015
Accessed 25/4/2015


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