Welcome back to the blog!
Some exciting news. Along with my Technique Tuesday posts, I will also be starting up two new columns: My Favourite Photographer, where I go over some of the influences and inspirations I carry around with me, and Exhibit Visits, where I will be visiting photography shows throughout Toronto and writing about them. Since I now live in such a vibrant arts city I thought it was about time! I will be posting at least once of each per month, so expect to read a lot more of me! I am also mulling over a third, but it’ll be a surprise…
Along with these, I will also continue my standard blog posts about shoots, travels, and so on.
So let’s get started!
Why Favourite Photographers?
So why would I want to start something like this? Well, all photographers find inspiration in others’ work. When I lived in England about four years ago I took a class on American Photography, which encompassed many of the greats. I was amazed at the history of photography and how influential some of these photographers were without me even realizing it. It was sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes tragic, sometimes hopeful, but all of the photographs told me one thing: that photography, at its core, is inspiring. And even to this day I frequently look back at old photography to try and really feel it. My copy of The Americans by Robert Frank is one of my most prized possessions. THUS, I thought it would be fun to write up about and share the work of some of those I love the most. Maybe it will encourage all of my fellow photographers to think about their influences and the type of photography that truly captures them!
Who is Vivian Maier
I heard about Vivian Maier probably five years ago or so when I saw a giant book of her photos on display at the bookstore I used to work at. Once I heard about her life and gazed at her photos for hours, I knew I was hooked. I frequently look through her photos just because it is such a treat. The main thing was: no one saw her photographs until close to her death, when rolls of film were found hidden away in a storage unit and sold to several buyers; however, none really evoked reactions. Only after her passing in 2009 did she reach popularity as one of the great 20th century street photographers.
Since her death, her photographs have reached international acclaim.
Vivian Maier was born in 1926. She worked most of her life as a nanny, which is evident in some of the photographs she would take of children and on walks with them.
Most of her life is a mystery. She moved back and forth between the USA and France. When she was in her 30s she took a world tour on her own and photographed the journey. Not only did she collect the rolls of film and photographs she produced but also piles of newspapers (some precariously high) and audio recordings of conversations with people she had photographed; a journalist if there ever was one!
Maier had a sense of architecture, light, people, and the relationship between these three characters. Her photographs are some of the earliest that show what could be seen as the “woman’s world”, a world that–at the time–was not well-acknowledged. Her most well-known photographs depict the streets of Chicago in the 50s and 60s. I also like to think she developed some of the best first selfies. She played with the idea of people and the built environment, and also seemed to be interested in those who were down-trodden: many of her photos depict people begging or the working class.
Her work has been compared to the likes of Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, or Harry Callahan (some more of my favorites!).
If anyone is interested in learning more about the mystery that was her life, watch the 2013 documentary Finding Vivian Maier, which also helped generate buzz about her talents.
Why Vivian Maier is a Favourite
There is something absolutely timeless yet completely caught in time in Maier’s photography. What draws me in is her gaze, wondering what she saw and how she saw it. Knowing about her mysterious life and the sad slow decline it reached in the 90s and 2000s, it makes a person even more curious about her. She had such an eye for detail, such a natural ability to capture people and places, and yet to never publish or even make it known to people is such a heartbreaking detail in her life, especially as she grew poorer and poorer as she got older. Why not? Why not share these photographs?
Perhaps that wasn’t what was important to Maier. Perhaps just the act of photographing was enough. The people she stopped to photograph and talk to stay in your mind long after looking at the photograph. They all somehow manage to look suspicious, bemused, at ease, and bored all at once. Maier captures the humanity of her subjects, and the children she cared for make frequent appearances. In these instances we get to see familiarity and comfort. The streets of Chicago have their own personality, and I absolutely adore her use of light and shapes. Maier is a constant source of inspiration I keep going back to. I admire her for her bravery, her creativity, and also her ability to keep this quiet. No one needed it but her. And that makes them all the more magical and real to me.
Camera of choice used by Maier:
First: Kodak Brownie box camera with 1 shutter speed, no aperture
1952: Rolleiflex (throughout 3.5T, 3.5F, 2.8C, Automat, etc.)
All photographs are taken from the Vivian Maier website: vivanmaier.com
More resources on Vivian Maier:
-documentary Finding Vivian Maier (2013)
–Vivian Maier: Street Photographer
–Vivan Maier: A Photographer Found
–Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits